Whether or not you consider yourself religious, surely you’ve seen headlines throughout the years about megachurches, their pastors, and their prosperity gospel. From proclaiming that God wants you to have a private jet to leading flocks of thousands while raking in millions, the church and some of its more colorful characters are often ripe fodder for satire. Beneath that shiny veneer of prosperity and righteousness lies hypocrisy, lies, scandal, and falls from grace (i.e., Bishop Eddie Long, Tony Alamo, Hillsong, Jim Baker, and the list goes on). Writer/director Adamma Ebo’s directorial debut, Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul, tells that story through the eyes of the first lady, who is often relegated to the sidelines in her husband’s shadow.
Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall) is the first lady of a Southern Baptist megachurch run by her husband Lee-Curtis (Sterling K. Brown). The Childs are currently on a rebranding mission after a scandal involving Lee-Curtis and some of his former congregants makes the news and costs them all of their followers. While on this crusade to rehabilitate their good name and regain their flock, they hire a camera crew to turn their comeback story into a documentary. Along the way to “rebirth,” the Childs also have to contend with the new upstarts, the Sumpters (Nicole Beharie and Conphidance), whose church has been a refuge for the displaced congregants (think The Righteous Gemstones, but less criminal and sinister). The Childs will do anything in their power to get back in God’s good grace — no matter how degrading and humiliating. But as Trinitie does her duty as a good wife and First Lady, she starts to question her relationship with her husband and even the church.
Ebo formulates Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul as a satirical mockumentary as a form of catharsis to work on her own feelings towards “the church,” its charismatic leaders, and the cultural ties that bind it as a Black woman raised in the church in the South. The film itself is left somewhat open-ended, leaving us all to grapple with our feelings towards these things. The script asks viewers to contend with an always timely question as we must reconcile our feelings for organized religion with the blatant hypocrisy and focus on monetary abundance so prevalent in many megachurches. The southern church lady shade was right on point.
For the most part, it’s a solid outing by Ebo, although some moments throughout the film seem to lag and draw the film out a little too long, especially around the hour mark where it gets a bit tiring. But where those scenes come up short, the superb acting by its lead more than makes up for it. Regina Hall excels in this type of film, and she really carries the emotional and comedic weight. Hall grounds her character and really makes her relatable — we might not be first ladies, but many of us have had to grapple with our feelings towards organized religion, especially those of us who were raised in the South where the church is so often the center of the community and a staple in our daily lives. And Hall’s comedic timing and chemistry with Sterling K. Brown is electric (that “Knuck If You Buck” car scene took me out) — the two of them so easily feed off each other in their scenes together. Brown really hams it up in this role, and it’s a delight to watch — we’re jealous of the fun it looks like he’s having to bring this character to life. Even Nicole Behari brings it (as always) in her supporting role — she commands every scene that she is in.
In the end, Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul is an introspective satirical look at church culture and our feelings towards it. It’s appreciated that it centers the woman’s experience and relationship to it, for that is not often the case. It’s one wild ride full of laughs and absurdity that makes you think even amongst the foolishness — it shines a mirror on the multi-billion dollar industry that is megachurches and organized religion and leaves us questioning our relationship to it.