Sundance 2022: 'Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul' is Holy Uneven
Updated: Mar 31, 2022
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul has a promising premise: a satirical take on southern megachurch culture with Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall in the lead as presiding pastor and first lady. Sadly, neither the assembly of talent nor the competent direction by debut filmmakers Adamma Ebo and Adanne Ebo can compensate for the disjointed script. What essentially starts off as a mockumentary-style exposé of two image-conscious community leaders riddled with a sexual misconduct-related scandal becomes a painfully self-serious portrait of a marriage doomed to fail.
Although the two very talented leads really do sell their strained dynamic, the back-and-forth nature of the tone makes Honk for Jesus especially hard to sit through. Fast-paced satire paired with long, drawn-out scenes of interrelational drama just doesn’t mesh well. The integrity of the movie relies on the way that the couple acts in front of the camera despite their many issues. Showing exactly what is going on behind the scenes leaves nothing to the imagination. The road to their church reopening is mundane and lonely. The faux-documentary aspects move further out of the storyline as the film draws closer to the date.
The praiseworthy aspects must be mentioned because they are many: Brown plays a big-headed sexual predator with no concept of intimacy that does not benefit his own narcissism with a convincing swagger. Hall as the very tolerant wife who sees to her role fulfillment as “first lady” above all else has one of the most emotive faces in film today. The glitzy church outfits are to die for; whoever did the costuming was probably having the time of their life. There are a couple of solid gags, mostly shoved into the first twenty minutes of the film, showcasing the deeply flawed logic of the duo: the tight-lipped argument about whether to pronounce it “Ah-men” or “Ay-men,” Curtis and Trinitie rapping some vulgar lyrics on their way to visit their ecclesiastical competitor, and a brief but clever visual gag of a woman’s title card turning from “congregate” to “former congregate” after a snide comment is made to her by Trinitie in the shopping mall.
Ebo hashes out the cult of charisma so often associated with religious leaders as well as the fight for an audience that upstages the fight for a cause; its heart is certifiably in the right place. Even the non-sequitur dramatic scenes are impeccably staged and directed. But the subject was initially a short film, and judging by its condensed two-week timeline, it probably worked much better as one. There is simply not enough institutional criticism or even plot conflict to constitute a feature-length film; gender politics and predatory behavior in organized religion are nowhere near fresh enough ideas to explore for 90 minutes, particularly in a film with such a lingering and unenthusiastic pace.
Perhaps the marketing team will reassess their description of the movie as “a lively satire” before it hits streaming (the star power will no doubt attract a passionate fanbase of people who live in the Bible Belt and can personally attest to the accuracy of the film’s depictions), but it seems to me that the filmmakers were trying to make two films in one. I have no doubt that the Ebo twins will go on to make do big things; this particular story just wasn’t ready for a feature-length rendition. The intrigue is minimal, and the satire is all too vague. Hopefully, Hall and Brown will collaborate with them again in the future; they just need a more developed idea.