"Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul," or honk for Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. (2022)

Prosperity gospel and the Southern Baptist megachurch culture as a whole are the targets being satirized in “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” Making her feature debut, writer-director Adamma Ebo has such a wealth of material from her experience of attending church in Atlanta, Georgia, with her twin sister (producer Adanne Ebo) that there’s probably not much to exaggerate. Based on her 2018 short film (which was first conceived as a feature script), the film is part mockumentary, part satirical comedy, and part drama. While the narrative itself sometimes feels stretched to its breaking point, Ebo finds a middle ground between pathos and humor without pulling many punches or getting too broad for this world. She also happens to get two excellent, finely tuned performances out of Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown. 

Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and his steadfast wife, “first lady” Trinitie (Regina Hall), have led their mega-church Wander to Greater Path Baptist Church in Atlanta for almost nine years. When Lee-Curtis faces multiple allegations of sexual misconduct (all of them with young men), they are forced to temporarily close the church. Subsequently, they lose the majority of their congregation in the thousands, too. They have plans, though, to reopen on Easter Sunday and pray to God that they can rebuild their congregation. The only problem with their hopeful comeback: younger, up-and-coming co-pastors Shakura and Keon Sumptor (savvily played by Nicole Beharie and Conphidance) are planning to open Heaven’s House, their own place of ministry, on the same day. Is God on their side? If Lee-Curtis can’t repent and stop his wandering eye, can Trinitie keep it together and will she stand by her man?

As a satirical half-mockumentary skewering the hypocrisy and the pageantry within a religious institution, “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” has a tricky tonal balancing act to manage. Skewer your targets too hard, and the film becomes mean-spirited or too easy; go too farcical and the targets are just treated condescendingly as dunces or caricatures. Fortunately, Adamma Ebo doesn’t allow Lee-Curtis and Trinitie Childs to just hit one note, which could have grown tired really quickly. There’s genuine emotional weight behind the slowly cracking façade, and Ebo takes the time to listen to these characters, particularly Trinitie. 

For the most part, the documentary angle is cleverly handled. The happy couple is being filmed by a filmmaker named Anita Bonet, chronicling their “ultimate comeback.” Anita applies such a fly-on-the-wall approach that she’s unresponsive until the very end. With the difference between the boxy mockumentary format and the “real” sections being shot in widescreen, there is also real precision between Hall and Brown’s performances when they’re on and off camera. When Lee-Curtis or Trinitie let out an outburst or don’t like how they could be seen (they have different pronunciations of “Amen”), they ask Anita for another take. When the cameras are off, one standout scene has the couple rapping in the car to Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck,” amping themselves up to take down their rivals. We can see both sides, and that’s what brings more nuance to this material than if we only saw the overblown spectacle of the Childs. Lorraine Coppin’s costume design deserves special mention, too. As Trinitie says to the camera, “God don’t like ugly,” revealing the preening vanity and extravagance of the Childs’ wardrobe and lifestyle. Lee-Curtis’ closet is full of Prada suits in every color of the rainbow and Trinitie loves wearing her church bonnets even if her husband thinks they make her look old. 

This is Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown’s show through and through, but Hall is decidedly the film’s divine MVP. Brown is a larger-than-life explosion of charisma, swagger, and masculine Christian energy but also able to dive deeper on the verge of an emotional break; the way his body language changes after an encounter with one of the documentary crew members reveals more than a spelled-out speech could. Not only is Hall just a national treasure, but like every character she embodies, she finds layers, insight, and inner anguish, this time in a long-suffering but all-smiles evangelical wife who reduces herself to a praise-mime dance. If you needed further proof that Hall is an undervalued actor, this is yet another showcase of her note-perfect comedic delivery and gravitas. Wryly amusing rather than a consistent laugh riot, “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” bites just enough. Though the laughs do inevitably decrease as the film closes in on some deeper soul-searching, the performances make you want to honk. Bless Hall and Brown’s hearts. 


Focus Features is releasing “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” (98 min.) in theaters and on Peacock on September 2, 2022.