Regina Hall returns to comedy duties for her second film at this year’s Sundance. Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul is a feature length version of 2018’s short of the same name, again made by the Ebo twins – writer/director/producer Adamma and producer Adanne – but this time with a bigger budget and a more familiar cast. Its ambitions, like those of its central characters, are greater too – and prove to be its downfall.
Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K Brown) and his wife, “First Lady” Trinitie Childs (Hall) are the leaders of Wander To Greater Paths Baptist Church. They have matching thrones, a taste for designer living and a megachurch with 25,000 members, but all that came to a grinding halt after allegations of sexual misconduct. Now it’s time for a comeback and, choosing to ignore that the public memory can be uncomfortably long, they’ve asked a documentary film crew to follow them as they plan their re-launch. As the re-opening approaches – appropriately enough, it’s on Easter weekend – they discover another pastor and his wife are planning to unveil their new church to cater for the bigger congregation that came their way. And they’ve chosen the exact same date.
How this compares with The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, which arrives in the UK on 4 February, remains to be seen. For now, we have a comedy/satire with apparently similar targets. The majority of the film takes on a mockumentary format, with interviews, apparently spontaneous scenes and “archive” footage: for the Childs’, with their lethal combination of vanity and niavete, it’s all to promote their cause and show them in a perfect light, but for the crew – and the audience – it’s something quite different. Lee-Curtis is a straight-up megalomaniac, refusing to acknowledge even a smidge of responsibility for their troubles and deflecting the blame far and wide. Trinitie’s ego doesn’t reach quite the same heights, but her self-delusion does, as her stand-by-your-man routine unravels in front of the camera and the combination of humiliation and the scales dropping from her eyes takes its toll.
With their forced smiles, theatrical laughs and synthetic sincerity, Brown and Hall are great choices for the central roles. If only the film lived up to them. It almost makes the grade in the mockumentary sequences which, although they’re nowhere near the Spinal Tap gold standard, have some genuinely sharp, pithy moments, giving us insights into the couple. But they’re let down by a tendency towards satire with all the subtlety of their golden thrones. Away from the mockumentary, we’re invited to a closer, more intimate look at the Childs in straightforwardly narrative sequences. The trouble is that, apart from one telling scene, they reveal little and serve only to pad out the film. So many satirical pot shots repeatedly land wide of the mark.
There’s potential here for something with razor sharp barbs, but instead we’re presented with a short that’s been stretch beyond its limits. Brown and Hall will keep you watching – just – but what lingers in your mind afterwards won’t be that bonkers title. It’ll be the words “if only …..”
Comedy, Satire | Cert: tbc | Sundance Film Festival 2022 | Dir. Adamma Ebo | Sterling K Brown, Regina Hall, Nicole Beharie, Conphidance, Olivia D Dawson.