The hypocrisy of the mega-churches and the teachings of their “prosperity gospel” open them up to criticism and practically demand it. and satire. It’s a bitterly American phenomenon operating at the crossroads between religious fervor and celebrity worship, to suggest that allegiance to the good shepherd will earn their parishioners the same kinds of earthly rewards they proudly display. Honk for Jesus. Save your soul. is certainly not the first film to tap into these depths for comedic value and social commentary, but it relies solely on examining the self-delusion of people forced – perhaps divinely inspired – to lead such a congregation , which writer-director Adamma Ebo captures with a deft combination of tragedy and absurdity.
Following a sex scandal that propelled them from the top of their community, Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and his supporting First Lady Trinitia (Regina Hall) prepare for the grand reopening of their mega -Southern Baptist Church, Wander the Great Ways. Hoping to boost their public profile, they invite a documentary crew to follow them in the weeks leading up to the Easter Sunday they have chosen for their glorious resurrection. But it turns out the on-the-fly documentary team isn’t interested in acting as Childs’ PR team, and their footage captures the emotional turmoil the power couple are trying to hide with their offensive of public relations.
Ebo does not limit his film to fictional observation, adopting a more cinematic aspect ratio for scenes and shots that come out of the vanity of false observation, but the decision not to be restricted by a style of cinematography acts like some sort of double-edged sword. On the one hand, it allows for a clear distinction between the private characters of Lee-Curtis and Trinitie and what they intentionally present to the camera, but this dual reality also sometimes undermines central performances. For example, Trinitie’s comically flimsy attempts to mask her frustrations with her husband and his congregation don’t entirely fit a character whose life seems calculated to present a specific face to the world. This juxtaposition of attitudes is at least part of the point, but private cinematic footage can feel more like a Get Out Of Jail Free presentation card than an effective storytelling choice.
Thankfully, the two middle performances are so stellar that it’s easy to forgive this shaky consistency. Sterling K. Brown portrays Lee-Curtis as the vision of self-delusion, fully believing that his piety is what brought him wealth and adulation. Her sex scandal underscores the deep-rooted hypocrisy of conservative figureheads, but Brown’s performance particularly captures how power and a selfish ideology form a protective cocoon – and coping mechanism – for the need for love, and yet. minus the unexamined self-hatred. Lee-Curtis is an interpreter because he needs the adoration and respect of his community, and he preaches the forgiveness of Christ, not only because he is a true believer in the distorted values of his church, but because it allows him to continue his sins with the hope that people will still follow him.
Yet, as compelling as Brown is in her own right, Regina Hall is the backbone of the film. Trinitie is the mastermind behind her unwitting husband’s success, but despite all her calculating attempts to uphold her husband’s fame and glory, she too is a true believer in the gospels she preaches. What makes her character so tragic is that she is forever doomed to be a supporting actor by the structures of her community – to be trapped in a marriage offering material rather than spiritual or emotional benefits, though neither Neither Trinitie nor Lee-Curtis are able to see the distinction. Hall brilliantly delivers the deadpan emotional shift between shock at her husband’s idiocy and the smiling passive aggression of a supportive wife, portraying a woman pitifully constrained by a faith that uses God as solace for her isolating existence. This culminates in an emotional breakdown that is a gem of Hall’s acting career, eliminating farce in favor of a raw, confused emotion that feels especially honest on camera in a documentary crew.
Honk for Jesus. Save your soul. may not always be effective as an example or deconstruction of mockumentaries, but it incisively captures the realities of gospel living and its addictive ability to foster fame and material comfort above all other values. At its most powerful, Adamma Ebo’s film is an empathetic indictment of a culture that has evolved – and perhaps mutated – from cross-community support to the suffocating glorification of garish figureheads. He understands not only that honking for Jesus might be a sham, but that a chorus of car horns is the closest these religious leaders can offer true salvation, including for themselves.