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Peacock exclusive Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul is filmmaker Adamma Ebo’s thesis project-turned-short film-turned-feature debut, rooted in something she knows very well: the Southern Baptist church. She and twin sister/producing partner Adanne Ebo grew up worshipping in one in Atlanta, inspiring Adamma to satirize the sect in a mockumentary. It stars Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown as church leaders trying to make a comeback after a scandal drove off their flock – and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t provocative.

The Gist: The Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church is a monument to… something. God, sure. Hubris, probably. Greed, definitely. But right now it stands empty, so it don’t mean shit to anybody but Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Brown) and his wife, Trinitie (Hall). Cue grainy footage of Lee-Curtis bellowing the gospel for thousands as Trinitie sits behind the pulpit in a queenly throne, her smile stretching east-to-west from sea to shining sea. They live in a mansion and drive Rollses, and explain such extravagances away as gifts from the Lord for all their hard work saving souls.

But Lee-Curtis, well, he’s a sinner – JUST LIKE YOU AND ME, he’d remind you right quick. Phrases like “sexual misconduct” and “settlements” get thrown around. The WTGPBC – which I pronounce “Wutgupbuck” – saw all its congregants make a mass exodus. But Trinitie stood by her man, and together, they’re going to rebuild. They’ve even hired documentary filmmakers to chronicle their resurrection, and one of the first things they do is invite the film crew to watch as the First Couple of Our Lady of Hypocrites and Backsliders cavort in their cavernous wardrobe closet. “There’s something about a pastor in Prada,” Lee-Curtis exclaims.

Thing is, Trinitie really seems to be pasting on a smile for the cameras. When Lee-Curtis says something stupid while tape is rolling, she grins even wider as her eyes dart around nervously. His sinning has stung her deep, and it becomes increasingly clear that he’s willing to wield his power and influence to get what he really wants. But she prays, and prays hard, and sometimes tells a naysayer to f— off followed by a reflexive utterance of blessing. The documentary crew interviews the Pastors Sumpter (Nicole Beharie and Conphidance), who are building Heaven’s House in the image of Wutgupbuck, and happily scooping up the Childs’ ex-congregants. So the pressure’s on to get Wutgupbuck back up by Easter, or else everything will come to an even headier head than the head that’s coming to inside Trinitie’s head. Is she gonna blow? THOU SHALT NOT SPOILETH THY FILM.

Honk For Jesus Save Your Soul Streaming Movie
Photo: Sundance Institute

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Honk for Jesus gives The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000 doc or 2021 biopic, take your pick) the Waiting for Guffman treatment.

Performance Worth Watching: Hall is extraordinary as a woman trying to hold all of the everythings together internally and externally, and shows significant chemistry across from Brown, who has less opportunity for nuance, but finds a keenly carved groove between satire and drama.

Memorable Dialogue: Trinitie, in this moment, in a nutshell: “F— the Sumpters. I mean, bless them and the work they do, really.”

Sex and Skin: A non-nude of non-sex because Lee-Curtis experiences a little ED.

Our Take: Honk for Jesus is a curiously structured film that shifts between the point-of-view of the documentary filmmakers and the omniscient view of traditional dramas, presumably so we can see the variety of masks Trinitie and Lee-Curtis wear when the “cameras” are on – and off. By its very nature, the documentary POV fodder is richer, more ripe for comedy, because it forces the truth into the subtext, and gives time to Trinitie’s struggle to find herself and her emotions among the ruins of her long-held public image. Mind you, that public image renders her someone passersby might refer to as That Poor Thing, when the truth, as ever, is more complicated; within Hall’s performance is a woman torn between her religion, her love for a man carrying a mighty inner conflict, her needs, and her desire to afford $2,300 “church hats.”

As you might guess, there are no easy answers to Trinitie’s predicament, nor should Ebo force any. And so the filmmaker reaches a conclusion that’s vaguely dissatisfying, at least dramatically; the story lands on uneasy ground, Ebo showing no desire to crucify hypocrites, or outright lambaste or endorse religion. Honk for Jesus is crown-of-thornier than that, although it gets its digs in, making comedic hay out of Lee-Curtis and Trinitie’s desperation for attention (and the money that comes with it, no doubt), which leads them to not only stand at the side of the road with HONK FOR JESUS signs, but perform something known as “praise mime,” a real-life you-gotta-Google-it bit of strangeness that gifted Ebo inspiration for memorable imagery. The comedy-mockumentary stuff aims at big targets while the trad-drama fodder narrows on character, the layers of which weigh heavy enough on Trinitie to make her a fraught, fascinating protagonist.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Ebo’s attempt to massage weighty drama into the mockumentary format yields lumpy results, but there’s no faulting her ideas, ambition and ability to inspire memorable performances from her cast.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.





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