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September 02, 2022

Honk for Jesus. Save your Soul


Adamma Ebo - 2022
Focus Features

Honk for Jesus switches from being footage of a documentary in progress about an evangelical pastor efforts to restore his reputation after a scandal, and off-camera "reality". The view can identity when filming is taking place by the switch between to different screens, with the screen taking on the almost square aspect ratio for the documentary.

In an early scene, the pastor gives a sermon to the five congregants that still follow him. A young girl gives testimony and is baptized as it were, by the pastor. A couple moments later, the girl states to the camera that she loves theater.

To some extent, Honk for Jesus follows several films that highlight the theatrical nature of evangelical preaching, with films like The Miracle Woman, Elmer Gantry and The Eyes of Tammy Faye. The documentary Marjoe gave the game away with former child preacher turned adult actor, Marjoe Gortner, pulling away the curtain. Both recent films and news about megachurch leaders has shown that no much has changed since Marjoe was released fifty years ago.

Adamma Ebo could have just made a film with the easy target of satirizing the fire and brimstone of the sermons, and the conspicuous consumption of mansions and luxury cars. At its heart, Honk for Jeaus is really about a marriage in trouble. Sterling K. Brown plays the megachurch pastor, Lee-Curtis Childs, whose personal demons caused a scandal big enough to have caused almost his entire congregation to leave. Regina Hall portrays his wife, Trinitie, known as the church's First Lady. The status and perks of being the First Lady are enough for Trinitie to do everything she can to stay with and support her husband. There is the suggestion of a back story of a girl who may have grown up within a closed, religious community with that evocative first name and her sense of wonder that she and Lee-Curtis overcame their differences with his being a Baptist, and she Apostolic.

The way Brown and Hall play off each other, they should be in a good, smart romantic comedy. The film is well cast with the scene stealing young Selah Kimbro Jones as someone to watch. Composer Marcus Norris has his first film score, where sometimes elegiac music underlines the seemingly comic events with a sense of sadness underneath. What makes Honk for Jesus different from the previously mentioned films is that it defies easy classification. Certainly both the mockumentary and off camera scenes show the characters acting and speaking foolishly. That final shot, a wordless close-up of Regina Hall, that says everything about Trinitie and her cloistered world.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 2, 2022 07:49 AM