Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.
dir-scr Adamma Ebo
prd Sterling K Brown, Kara Durrett, Adanne Ebo, Adamma Ebo, Regina Hall
with Regina Hall, Sterling K Brown, Nicole Beharie, Conphidance, Austin Crute, Devere Rogers, Robert Yatta, Greta Marable Glenn, Andrea Laing, Selah Kimbro Jones, Crystal Alicia Garrett, Perris Drew
release UK Jun.22 slf,
US 2.Sep.22
22/US Focus 1h42

hall brown beharie
Sundance london film fest

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Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.
Loosely based on a true story, this church-based drama has the aura of a Christopher Guest-style improv comedy, but its humour is on-the-nose rather than riotous. Which is partly because mega-churches are absurd enough without exaggeration. Writer-director Adamma Ebo takes a knowing approach that finds amusing gags that are sometimes obvious or unnerving. And there's enough complexity in the story to take in both broad nuttiness and darker emotions.
After a sex scandal leaves Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church empty, pastor Lee-Curtis (Brown) and his wife and "First Lady" Trinitie (Hall) plan to reopen on Easter. Most of their congregants have moved on to a rival church pastored by the Sumpters (Beharie and Conphidance), which is opening its new sanctuary on the same Sunday. So as a documentary film crew follows Lee-Curtis and Trinitie, they are continually caught off guard by various events, including lawyers trying to settle the misconduct case. But five faithful followers stick by their side through it all.
Much of the humour centres around Lee-Curtis and Trinitie's obscene wealth, from a staggering church changing room to their palatial mansion. Along the way, there are hints about Lee-Curtis' scandal, which involved young men (cut to a clip of him railing against the "homosexual agenda"). So while she's loyal, Trinitie has doubts about their marriage. All of this is played for irony rather than comedy. So as the film knowingly tackles big themes, it's not very funny.

Brown and Hill are wonderfully committed, playing up their characters' excesses in fine deadpan style while offering glimpses into their souls. Lee-Curtis is so blindly focussed on redemption that he never notices Trinitie's own journey, taking her faithfulness for granted. The way they only barely suppress their truth is realistic, and sometimes chilling to watch. With them always in focus, other characters merely pop in and out of the frame, mainly to provoke them.

Ebo occasionally abandons the mock-documentary format in order to show private moments along the way, including key bedroom moments. This slightly undermines the film's overall effect, simply because it muddles the point of view, creating some sympathy when a more acerbic perspective might have offered a pungent kick. As a result, the humour remains more unsettling than laugh-inducing throughout the film. A more exaggerated approach would have made the film much funnier, and perhaps that would have put the sharp themes into even finer relief.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 8.Jun.22 slf

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall