After running a thriving Baptist church for years, a pastor embedded in controversy and his seemingly supportive wife attempt a grand comeback in Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. For writer/director Adamma Ebo’s feature-length debut, the Sundance 2022 standout represents an attempt to build upon her promising 2018 short film of the same name.
Analyzing the underlying hypocrisies of religious culture with humor and an intelligent bite presents underlying promise for Ebo – especially in a marketplace where most religious features serve as self-aggrandizing propaganda (looking at you, Pure Flix). Unfortunately, Honk stumbles into several first-time feature pitfalls in its well-meaning pursuits.
Movies can often produce valuable sentiments without bolstering those core ideas with proper nuance. Here, Ebo falls into that trap with her conceptually-promising blend of satirical and dour revelations. Ebo reckons with the egoism, corruption, and homophobia present inside the church’s hallowed walls as the film’s central couple tries igniting a misguided comeback. There are subdued moments where the messaging rings with uncomfortable truths, but much of the screenplay feels stuck treading water.
Ebo’s comedic touch is too inconsistent to leave a strong impression as a piece of satire – often modulating between thoughtful insights and cheap pratfalls without defining a succinct comedic voice. The erratic execution showcases a script that struggles to stretch a short film concept into a feature-length thesis.
Ebo’s directorial choices endure similar inconsistencies. The mockumentary aesthetic is a thoughtful device for exploring disparities between the church’s pristine image and the dysfunctional culture resting under the surface. In execution, Ebo imbues some intriguing techniques that don’t quite connect. Differnatiing the bright, happy-go-lucky mockumentary footage with washed-out frames of behind-the-scenes discord ends up being a didactic device for articulating the film’s themes. I don’t think the style choice ends up adding much to the narrative experience.
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. doesn’t quite connect, but the film consistently radiates glimmers of promise. I commend Ebo for constructing a high-wire tonal act that fearlessly pursues challenging societal quandaries. I believe the upcoming auteur could develop a vital perspective onscreen with future offerings despite some turbulence with her debut.
Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall also enhance the controversy-ridden Childs into fascinating figures to deconstruct. Brown’s screen-grabbing charisma wrestles with the character’s questionable history in meaningful ways, while Hall displays gravitas and biting wit as the matriarch stuck in a conflicting situation. With unforgettable turns in Support the Girls, Master, and Honk, Hall continues demonstrating boundless ability during her career renaissance.
I agree wholeheartedly with what Honk attempts to say about religious culture. It’s just a shame that the promising pieces never quite connect during the disjointed final product.
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul is now playing in theaters and on Peacock.
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