“Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” is a wry satire about one certain amusing side of the American culture. Mainly revolving around the two central figures of an African American megachurch who really need to overcome their disgraced public status, the movie cheerfully bounces from one witty moment to another along with its two charismatic lead performers, and their enjoyable comic performances are the main reason why I can willingly overlook several shortcomings including its rather anti-climactic ending.
At the beginning, the movie gives us some background information on its two main characters: Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and his wife Trinitie (Regina Hall). During last several years, Lee-Curtis was a very influential African American Christian pastor in Atlanta, Georgia, and he and his wife were certainly proud of their megachurch which was incidentally the main source of their fame, wealth, and power in the local community. Around the height of their success, the number of the congregants of their church was around 25,000, and it was surely a wonderful American dream for both of them.
However, their church was subsequently hit by a series of serious allegations against Lee-Curtis, who was accused of committing very inappropriate things to some of young congregants. As this came to draw more attention in public day by day, lots of congregants left the church, and Lee-Curtis and his wife became quite desperate while also coping with the legal trouble resulted from those serious allegations.
Nevertheless, they do not totally give up their hope yet. As the Easter week is approaching, Lee-Curtis and his wife plan a big church event where he is supposed to repent and then, yes, get born again in front of many audiences. As a matter of fact, they even let a documentary filmmaker and a small number of technical crew members follow and then record their ambitious journey to redemption, though we do not see much of these filmmaking folks behind the camera.
In front of the camera, Lee-Curtis and Trinities try their best for presenting themselves as positively as possible, but, of course, they only come to show how woefully they are unprepared from the beginning, and the movie naturally shifts itself on mockumentary mode at times. At one point, we are told that there are only five congregants still going to Lee-Curtis and Trinitie’s church, and these congregants surely bring some extra amusement during the scene where they try to assist Lee-Curtis and Trinitie’s rehearsal at the church.
To make matters worse, somebody is already ready to take over Lee-Curtis and Trinitie’s congregants. They are a promising young pastor named Keon Sumpter (Conphidance) and his wife Shakura (Nicole Beharie), and we get a little humorous moment when Lee-Curtis and Trinitie attempt to stop Keon and Shakura from ruining their big day to come. Although these two couples are courteous to each other on the surface, what is actually exchanged among them beneath their polite words and smiles are pretty evident to us, and that accordingly brings us another chuckle.
Above all, Lee-Curtis and Trinitie have serious personal issues to deal with, and the movie delves more into their increasingly strained relationship via a series of private moments between them. Although both of them never talk directly about what Lee-Curtis actually committed, we gradually come to have a pretty good idea about whatever happened between Lee-Curtis and those young congregants, and he certainly looks quite hypocritical when we see him preaching a lot about a certain sexual issue in front of his congregants. While well aware of her husband’s hidden problem, Trinitie tries to endure nonetheless as doing whatever she must do as a dutiful preacher’s wife, but she cannot help but feel like running out of patience – especially when her husband does not look like learning any lesson from his disastrous scandal.
It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that the movie eventually reaches to a sort of breaking point along with its two main characters, but the screenplay by director/writer Adamma Ebo, which is based on her 2018 short film of the same name, holds our attention to the end as providing more comic absurdity along the story. It also generates some gravitas via several more serious scenes, and one particularly strong scene sharply conveys to us how willingly Lee-Curtis looks away from his misdemeanor despite facing its grave ramifications right in front of him.
Above all, the movie is buoyed by the excellent comic chemistry between its two lead performers. While Sterling K. Brown, who has been mainly known for his Emmy-winning turn in TV drama series “This Is Us”, surprises us with his unexpected comic talent, Regina Hall, an underrated actress who can be not only very funny but also genuinely touching, is stellar as usual as steadily holds the ground for her co-star, and she is particularly good when her silent face speaks volumes around the end of the film. In case of Nicole Beharie and Conphidance, they ably function as the counterpart for Hall and Brown, but I cannot help but wonder whether they could be utilized further for more laughs for us.
On the whole, “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” is not entirely without weak aspects, but it is still a fairly good feature debut work from Ebo, who has closely collaborated with her producer/twin sister Adanne Ebo. In my inconsequential opinion, it pulls its punches a bit too much especially during the last act, but it is still funny enough for recommendation thanks to the game efforts from Hall and Brown, and you may enjoy it more than me if you happen to be its target audience.