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Sundance 2022 Review: Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. – “Exceptional performances”

Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown appear in Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul by Adamma Ebo, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Alan Gwizdowski.

Once a place of worship with a community of congregants numbering 25,000 the Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church is now seeing hard times.  The church is temporarily closed due to the scandalous sexual misconduct allegations against its pastor, Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown).  The proud first lady of this southern megachurch, Trinitie (Regina Hall) is trying to hold it all together, outwardly strong, loyal to her husband, but inwardly struggling in the fallout.

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As the couple work to rebuild their congregation, looking to re-open appropriately on Easter weekend, they need to portray unification and strength in both their faith and their marriage.  To chronicle this time in their lives and what they feel will be their ultimate success, they bring a documentary team on board to film them in the month leading up to the big comeback.  But with a competing church (led by Conphidance and the fabulous Nicole Beharie, also at Sundance in 892) taking in their congregants and the cracks in their own relationship showing, their mission may not quite go as planned.

Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul., based on the 2018 short film of the same name, is the feature debut for writer/director Adamma Ebo, who often collaborates with her writing partner and twin, Adanne Ebo, here a producer.  It’s told in a faux-documentary style (think of TV’s The Office, or most recently the wonderful Abbott Elementary), and often just as bitingly funny.  Ebo’s satire of megachurch culture and for-profit religion certainly doesn’t shy away from critique.  The Childs see no issue with their extravagance, sitting on golden thrones, detailing their collection of Prada in their wardrobe, showing off their mansion and cars (bringing memories of the recent Eyes of Tammy Faye to the forefront).  It’s also clear that for Ebo, some aspects of religious teachings just don’t fit with her personal beliefs.  Yet, she never makes fun, recognizing the power and importance of faith, the church and its community to its members.  It’s a fine line, and she manages to walk it gracefully.

Shooting in the documentary style also allows Ebo to examine how exactly the truth, and all the shades of grey in between,  is depicted in this type of filmmaking, something she described in the Q&A after the premiere.  Playing with aspect ratio assists the audience in determining exactly when the Childs are being filmed by Anita, the documentarian, but so does the obvious show the couple puts on.  It’s often the smiles plastered on the couple’s faces while filming that are the fakest, hiding the real truth of the matter.  This often only comes out when the cameras stop rolling and the facade is dropped.

The first half of this film does work better than the second, which lags a bit in comparison.  But, the exceptional performances from Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall (also showing her considerable range and talent at Sundance in the thriller Master) are what bring this film to the next level.  Brown’s charismatic showmanship as Pastor Lee-Curtis is a joy to watch, though it’s Hall who is the anchor here.  Her exceptional comedic timing meshes seamlessly together with the emotional strife Trinitie is going through as she struggles to reconcile her feelings about faith, the church and her relationship.  The tension she holds as she smiles through it all makes you ready for her character’s eventual emotional climax.  She’s always been good, but in Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. Regina Hall may just make you a believer if you, incredibly, weren’t already.

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