SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul is funny. The reason it’s so very funny is that it digs deep, not for broad laughs but for painful truths. Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall) is the first lady of a Southern Baptist megachurch struggling to overcome a scandal involving her husband, Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown). The goal is to reopen for services on Easter Sunday, yet the reverberations of disgrace continue. Will Trinitie and Lee be able to correct course and regain their flock, or will other churches snatch up their followers?
Adamma Ebo writes and directs a scathing, insightful glance at what the desperate will do to maintain their power over a trusting flock. We sit from the church pews and watch the hats fly. The combination of traditional third-person camera with faux-documentary moments allows us to glimpse what Trinitie and Lee are trying to stage against what is actually happening. Aspect ratio and resolution switch up to let us know if we are in front of or behind the camera. The technique works well enough to distinguish if we are in the inner or outer circle, but it is subtle. For their parts, Pastor Lee and Trinitie kick off the footage with a tour of their dormant palace of worship. Sporting Prada suits and Italian couture, they equate opulence with reverence.
“…Southern Baptist megachurch struggling to overcome a scandal…”
Slowly, the details of the scandal become apparent. Very slowly, in fact, but that makes the story fun. Ebo continues a slow feed of revelations between being a fly-on-the-wall and behind-the-scenes moments to paint a picture of a sinking ship and the two-person crew hoping to save it. Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul feels like a sharp-edged, Guestian mockumentary for a new generation. In particular, there is a moment in which Trinitie runs into a former congregant (Bonita Elery) at a shopping mall under the gaze of the invasive documentary lens. If anyone has spent time in the South, you fully understand what “Bless your heart” means. It is used to full effect here, which left me gasping for air.
Ebo does a fine job adapting her 2018 short into a full-length feature. While we get the same stakes this time around, we also get filled in on the details and emotional luggage being carried around, making the situation even more outlandish and funny. But, even considering all that is great about Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul, it would have been serviced by a few narrative cuts that added nothing but a second in the runtime. As Lee fights to maintain his innocence and Trinitie does everything she can to hold on to her principles, the story begins to falter.
On the other hand, I really can’t say enough about Hall’s takedown of religious duplicity. She nails it with the comic timing of Catherine O’Hara. Her final roadside hail-mary to bring people in is initially hilarious and wince-inducing. Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul is a wicked read of religion and a showcase of comic talent.
Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
"…Regina Hall...nails it..."