In 1960, Elmer Gantry warned audiences about trusting in one man. The classic film, featuring Burt Lancaster’s Oscar-winning role, forced audiences to wonder why devotion to a preacher overshadows a devotion to God. In the years since many films examined unbelievable men making people fall in love with their charm. Yet, Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul seeks to change the perspective of these narratives. Framing the story of a falling church through the lens of a devout wife (Regina Hall), the dramedy hopes to drive home a problematic story. However, due to struggles to balance the tone, a herculean performance from Hall cannot deliver a masterpiece worthy of her star.
Written and directed by Adamma Ebo, Honk for Jesus follows the Childs family after sexual misconduct allegations. Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) finds himself exposed for his past sins, but believe he can regain his place a prominent preacher. For Trinitie (Hall), the world has become focused on her relationships and her marriage. As she attempts to navigate the public scrutiny, the audience and culture turns on her.
Regina Hall once again proves she has more talent than one genre can contain. Her performance here overshadows every other aspect of Honk for Jesus, so good in fact that you question why the film is not better. Hall pours herself into Trinitie, a woman who gave every aspect of herself to building a church and community. When we enter into marriage, we place our trust in someone, exposing our vulnerabilities and hopes to the world. Making matters worse, the downfall of her future and family do not come from her actions, but from the man she trusted.
Hall makes it clear that we are witnesses to the destruction of Trinitie’s trust in her fellow man. Late in the film, she delivers one of the finest monologues of her career. The way she stares into the camera haunts you, even as the footage gets more ridiculous. This is a woman looking for safety, and instead finds herself tormented again and again. Hall delivers her finest performance, a tall feat given previous turns in Support the Girls and Master.
Brown also delivers the goods, and willingly steps into the butt of the joke. His parody of a pastor is both funny and moving. He channels the power of his persona into a single sermon, which might have been a career highlight if the scenes immediately following did not deflate him. His willingness to let himself shine, only to be torn down again, proves Brown will do anything to support his teammates in a film.
The Ebo twins, Adamma and Adanne (who serves as a producer), have an eye for an unusual world. Their choice to frame the film though the footage of a documentary crew allows for a fair amount of improve to sneak its way into the film. The verite quality helps Honk for Jesus stand out. Yet the absurdity of some elements of the film undercuts the satire in question. However, the film does not seem to go far enough at other times, playing a few scenes so subdued that you’ll go minutes without a joke. It’s a tonal imbalance that ultimately makes it hard to settle in as an audience, despite some material featuring eye-popping sequences.
While some people are willing to do anything for attention and fame, the Ebo twins push the antics a little too far. This makes it difficult to connect with some of the emotional beats of the story, despite the power Hall and Brown bring to play. For a first feature, Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul features plenty of potential. The Ebos seem like a force to be reckoned with once they refine their voice.
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul takes an unusual story and makes it feel real. While the tone of the film may wander, Hall showcases a masterful performance. As the first feature of an emerging filmmaking talent, Honk for Jesus flourishes in more than enough moments to push us toward watching the Ebos next effort.