Summers in Phoenix can be downright sweltering. Yet, 2022 has been unusually temperate. And on the day of the “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” screening, the temperatures had climbed into the triple digits, and nerves were frayed. Did that stop us from seeking redemption upon that greatest of cinematic cathedrals? No.
You might be asking yourself, about now, why the weather the day of the screening has any bearing on Adamma Ebo’s soul-crushing, bitingly funny satire? Being in a darkened, air-conditioned place of cinematic worship, “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” features a strong Sterling K. Brown as Lee-Curtis Childs and, in a dynamic lead performance Regina Hall as Trinitie Childs, a pastor, and his “first lady.” The story goes that they are preparing to reopen their church after dealing with a scandal that has decimated their megachurch on Easter Sunday.
Ebo’s script is at once vague and full of detail in a semi-documentary style. Lee-Curtis and Trinitie are Southern Baptist ministers, and at one time, they had a thriving community. A great darkness has descended upon their house, a house built upon wealth gleaned from their preachings over the years, not unlike Jerry Farwell. Both Lee-Curtis and Trinitie act as if everything will be alright, that they will find a path toward their former glory.
Not everything is as rosy as the covers suggest, and that’s the inherent beauty of “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” It is precisely that vagueness that sells the story and the characters as they try to document their rebirth. It is exactly what slowly allows the details beneath the surface to bubble up. So slow that you might miss something, but that’s okay too – “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” is streaming on Peacock in addition to being in theaters. Finally, it allows the couple to decide what is central to their lives.
Are you noticing a pattern of events here?
If not, that’s okay. Cinematographer Alan Gwizdowski guides us through the various perspectives visually, one that can seem jarring at first. The creative choice makes perfect sense, though, as Trinitie and Lee-Curtis go through their motions and emotions: perfectly poised on the pulpit, in front of the documentary cameras, relaxed yet guarded in private and poised yet guarded in public. This gives rise to three moments in the film that, when you see them, you’ll either recoil in horror or laugh your backside off (or both), especially as Trinitie feels compelled to add another hat to her collection, resulting in a “Bless your heart” moment with a parishioner. Ebo invites us to consider appearances and reactions as seriously as we would laugh at them.
The one aspect of both characters is how surprised they are over the quiet rejection they encounter with each other and, ultimately, their distanced community. On an interpersonal level, though, is where Hall and Brown shine through their characters’ thick, aggrandizing braggadocio.
Even dealing with reopening the church, they encounter resistance from Keon (Conphidance) and Shakura Sumpter (Nicole Beharie), a competing church seeking to build on the Childs’ ruins. Ebo doesn’t let it rest at rejection, with the third act representing their most extraordinary comeback attempt. The story is intended as satire, allowing its points to bite harder than they would elsewhere.
It’s difficult to discuss “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” without spending so much time on the characters and creative composition of the film. More than anything, these are the elements that have stuck with me. Although it is early in the season, Regina Hall should be in the Best Actress conversation. However, they are the most critical elements in a story ultimately bent on redemption of person, place, and soul.
That and the hottest weather Phoenix has had in months. “Bless Our Hearts.”
“Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” Is cinematic glory.