It is easy to be charmed by “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul,” a very funny satirical comedy about the disgraced pastor of a megachurch (Sterling K. Brown) and his loyal and proud first lady (Regina Hall). Filmed in a faux documentary style, writer-director Adamma Ebo makes her feature film debut with an adaptation of her short film of the same name. Normally when shorts are stretched to full length, the project runs out of gas. That’s not the case here. This is an extremely well done, enjoyable movie.
In its heyday, the Wander to Greater Paths church boasted a massive congregation of devoted faithful. Tens of thousands would show up to worship every week, until Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Brown) engaged in some inappropriate behavior that forced the church to close. His wife Trinitie (Hall) remains by her husband’s side, holding things together in the aftermath that has turned the community against them. The couple has agreed to allow a documentary filmmaker to follow them around as they stage a rebranding and plan a large-scale comeback on Easter Sunday.
Ebo’s script is insightful and funny, and her characters aren’t your typical money-hungry shysters for Jesus. Lee-Curtis and Trinitie are examples of believers who have a true devotion and sincerely want to bring the word of their God to the world. They believe their ministry can do great things by saving souls while putting on a show. These aren’t inherently awful people, and that’s what makes the film work so well.
You wouldn’t expect such a multilayered performance in a comedy, but Hall delivers. She is funny, warm, and charming, with a suppressed sadness. She conveys a quiet suffering with just a glance, choking back the disappointment and loneliness she feels in her marriage, especially as Trinitie struggles to keep up appearances for the sake of the church. But she can also cut down a person with a simple “bless your heart” and the wag of a finger. Hall’s performance is strong, smart and sassy, and she runs with it, taking what could have been a superficial role and giving the character depth. It’s excellent work from her, and she finds a natural chemistry with Brown. The pair have an impressive comedic timing that lends a goofy sincerity to the lead characters.
Ebo pushes things a little too far towards the end when it feels like she runs out of things to say, but the majority of the film is meaty and engaging. While parts of “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” feel familiar, Ebo has managed to create something that feels fresh and different. This is one of the more enjoyable movies I’ve screened at Sundance this year.