Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.
A provocatively intriguing title if there ever was one, Honk for Jesus. Save your Soul. features electrifying performances from Regina Hall and Sterling K Brown as Trinitie Childs and Lee-Curtis Childs. Together, they run an Atlanta megachurch, swindling obscene wealth from their loyal congregation in the process. Having recently been embroiled in a sex scandal, Lee-Curtis and his first lady have been forced to temporarily close their doors until a financial settlement has been reached, hiring a documentary crew to chart their road to a blockbuster Easter Sunday reopening. However, a young and fresh ministerial couple, the Sumpters (Conphidance and Nicole Beharie), are looking to debut their act on the same day, threatening to capitalise on the Childs’ weakened position and seize members of their congregation, who have lost faith in them. Navigating an increasingly desperate period of preparation, the couple resort to many tactics, including a promotional roadside placard bearing the words of the title.
The film plays out in a blend of fly-on-the-wall footage and more traditional narrative techniques, providing a solution to the inherent problem of mockumentary filmmaking in showing characters in moments of vulnerability they would not wish to be broadcast. It also nicely personifies the dual personas of such preachers: the charismatic, finely tuned image that takes the stage and the schemer that operates behind it. Adamma and Adanne Ebo, who direct and produce respectively, take their satirical duties seriously, however, and never portray their characters as caricatures, but plausible monstrosities. Despite their reprehensibility, they are carefully constructed characters with depth and humanity.
In this sense, it is clear that the Ebos have a deep affinity for the community they showcase. There is no snootiness, and this is what makes the drama so effective. The tragic notes that the film taps into work because it is not just about two con artists – is about a tight-knit community consisting of love and a shared passion. From the elaborate Sunday Best to the language of the characters, the film is as much a love letter to a community as it is a satire.
The performances of Hall and Brown are instrumental in aligning the portrayal of their characters with this philosophy. Brown absolutely nails the overwhelming charisma of such preachers, while subtly imbuing his character with a vulnerability that almost invokes pity, while Hall fulfils the Carmella Soprano role with equal magnetism, playing the expected part of dutiful wife while cracks in her loyalty to her husband are apparent from the get-go. Their performances strike perfect comic timing, hitting all the emotional beats they need to in order for the story to work.
Despite being ostensibly a mockumentary, the film is surprisingly cinematic and loose in its creative and dramatic expression. It looks gorgeous, for a start, the ornate set designs of the Childs’ home and their church guiltily pleasurable to look at. Adamma Ebo, in her first directorial feature, has a clear eye for seemingly effortless shifts in tonal focal point, sometimes within a single scene. The best filmmakers have that quality where the audience is like putty in their hands, and this one keeps viewers soft and malleable for the ride.
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. does not have a UK release date yet.
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