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‘Honk for Jesus’ satirizes a fool’s pursuit

“Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” (2022). Cast: Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown, Nicole Beharie, Conphidance, Austin Crute, Devere Rogers, Robert Yatta, Greta Marable Glenn, Selah Kimbro Jones, Crystal Alicia Garrett, Perris Drew, Olivia D. Dawson, Tairat Baoku, Elle Young, Andrea Laing (voice), Marcus Martin (voice). Director: Adamma Ebo. Screenplay: Adamma Ebo. Web site. Trailer.

Sometimes, no matter how sincere we may appear in taking on a cherished task, we might easily come across looking like buffoons – and not even realize it. Yet somehow we saunter on, striving to reach our goals, despite the obstacles and the odds being innately stacked against us. So what will become of such fool’s pursuits? It might help to take some guidance from the hilarious new mockumentary-style comedy, “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.”

Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and his ever-devoted wife, Trinitie (Regina Hall), used to have it all. As the founders of Atlanta’s Wander to Greater Paths Baptist megachurch, the preacher and his “first lady” amassed a huge following – not to mention a vast personal fortune. They lived high on the proverbial hog, with an ostentatiously huge home, a fleet of high-end cars, and a wardrobe of designer clothes and shoes that would make Imelda Marcos green with envy. They even accumulated enough cash to pay off the county’s outstanding debt, a bona fide example of their civic magnanimity. But everything they stockpiled evaporated virtually overnight when allegations of improprieties surfaced allegedly involving the pastor’s questionable behavior with young men, prompting an unending exodus of parishioners – along the funds they contributed. In fact, were it not for a number of out-of-court settlements, things could have potentially been a lot worse.

But, after several years of laying low while quietly drafting agreements with the aggrieved parties, Lee-Curtis and Trinitie now want to get back on top. Having not admitted to any official wrongdoings, they believe they’re well positioned for a comeback, one slated, fittingly enough, for launching on Easter Sunday. They’re convinced their effort will bear fruit in abundance, once again allowing them to successfully save souls. However, in carrying out this mission, they must first answer a key question: Can they save themselves?

To chronicle the course of their institution’s rebirth, they hire a documentary filmmaker (Andrea Laing) to chart their progress. And the making of that film thus provides the narrative basis of “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” The result is a classic mockumentary offering in the same vein as movies like “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984), “Waiting for Guffman” (1996), “Best in Show” (2000) and “A Mighty Wind” (2003), with the fundamentalist megachurch community as the hapless target for ample loads of justified comical comeuppance and scathing skewering.

After a prolonged hiatus, Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown, left) and “First Lady” Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall, right) anxiously await the return of their departed throngs of parishioners to their Baptist megachurch in the biting new satirical mockumentary, “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” Photo by Steve Swisher / © 2021 Pinky Promise LLC, courtesy of Focus Features.

As the film progresses, viewers bear witness to a series of hilarious bits that mercilessly satirize the often-ludicrous nature and blatant hypocrisy of these institutions, the kinds of scandals often found in tabloid headlines and that eventually make their way into the mainstream media. The holier-than-thou attitudes that permeate the over-the-top screeds of these glamorized, supposedly sanctimonious evangelists are exposed for their often-two-faced messages, revealing their messengers as the second-rate conmen that they truly are. And much of it is delivered with adept comic flair, although some decidedly dramatic sequences are thrown in for good measure to heighten the impact of the picture’s overall intent.

Along the way, viewers are treated to an array of colorful supporting characters, such as Keon and Shakura Sumpter (Conphidance, Nicole Beharie), the polite but schemingly insincere co-pastors of a rival parish that siphoned away much of the WTGP flock in the wake of Pastor Childs’s scandals – and that’s now also planning to celebrate the opening of its new home on the same day as its would-be-resurgent peers. Then there’s the core five (Robert Yatta, Greta Marable Glenn, Selah Kimbro Jones, Crystal Alicia Garrett, Perris Drew), a quintet of clueless, hopelessly devoted members of the WTGP congregation who have chosen to stand by their preacher no matter what anyone else has said. And, of course, there are the ever-so-genteel church-going ladies, like Sister Danetta (Olivia D. Dawson), who flash their plastic smiles and skillfully display their phony façades to avoid doing anything that might suggest they’re even the least bit un-Christian-like. Viewers even meet the source of the most reliable church gossip, Yvet (Elle Young), the hairdresser at the local mall.

Naturally, in scenarios like this, everything that could conceivably go wrong eventually does, with all of it faithfully caught on film, making the challenges of resurrecting the parish in line with its timetable that much more difficult. It thus prompts the implementation of increasingly desperate measures, such as Lee-Curtis and Trinitie standing by the side of a nearby busy highway and waving signs to promote the reopening of the church, all of which carry messages parroting the title of this film. But will those plans work? Wait till Sunday rolls around to find out.

Perched upon their humble thrones, Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown, right) and “First Lady” Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall, left) discuss their plans for a comeback after a fall from grace in writer-director Adamma Ebo’s sidesplitting new comedy, “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.,” now playing theatrically and online. Photo by Steve Swisher / © 2021 Pinky Promise LLC, courtesy of Focus Features.

Getting back what we’ve lost can be difficult, if not impossible. That’s especially true when those losses are attributable to circumstances of our own making, those that subsequently raise questions about trust, accountability and worthiness of redemption. In fact, in many instances, it may be better to simply let go and strike out in a new direction. But, for those who can’t bear the thought of giving up what they’ve lost, such a step may be just as challenging as walking away. That certainly seems to be the case with Pastor Childs, but what is he realistically to do?

It would seem that the preacher needs to take stock of his beliefs and assess them for what they are and what they portend, for they will shape what unfolds going forward. Such is the nature of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through the power of these intangible resources. He may not have heard of this school of thought, but it would certainly behoove him to learn about it and put it to use in his life, particularly if he doesn’t want to get caught going in circles that will take him nowhere – not back to where he was nor on to anything better.

Consider the position he’s operating from. He steadfastly insists that he wants to get back to where he was, but look at what that ultimately got him. It left him disgraced, untrusted (save for Trinitie and the core five) and out of the limelight he once so relished. And, if he now thinks he can just snap his fingers and somehow be magically transported back to what he had, he’s seriously deluding himself, no matter how earnestly he may hold on to that notion. And, what’s worse, he can’t even see how the beliefs he clung to in the past brought him to where he is now.

To begin with, as flashback clips from the pastor’s sermons reveal, he was a hypocrite par excellence. His bombastic tirades against the evils of same sex relationships, for example, may have effectively stirred up the emotions of his predominantly conservative congregation, yet he was himself accused of inappropriate behavior with young men (a scenario not unlike what happens all too often in real life, I might add). And, even though the signing of his settlement agreements may have officially absolved him of anything untoward, the accusations cast enough doubt to keep him from being trusted to the same degree he once was.

Keon and Shakura Sumpter (from left, Conphidance, Nicole Beharie), the polite but schemingly insincere co-pastors of a rival parish to the recovering Wander to Greater Paths Baptist megachurch, discuss their plans for the future of their organization in “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” Photo by Steve Swisher / © 2021 Pinky Promise LLC, courtesy of Focus Features.

What’s more, despite the Herculean efforts he went to in trying to protect his name and reputation, he obviously didn’t learn his lesson, either. That becomes apparent in one scene where he attempts to less than subtly (yet ultimately unsuccessfully) proposition one of his documentarian’s assistants (Devere Rogers). He obviously still seems to think that he can get away with anything and not incur any retribution, just as he did in the past. Does he really believe he’s that untouchable? It takes a stern warning from Trinitie to remind him of where is he now and how he got there, as well as what repeating his past behavior could do in derailing any of his hopes and dreams for the future. It’s a sentiment further echoed in a tense confrontation between the pastor and one of his accusers (Austin Crute), who unreservedly observes just how “irrelevant” the preacher has become during his prolonged absence from the public eye.

Yet Lee-Curtis fervently believes that he can do no wrong, that he can get away with anything, that he can indeed operate from a position of God-like status. On top of that, he believes he can ostensibly rise from the dead and resume where he left off, as if nothing happened. He’s so focused on attaining his goal that he’s convinced himself he can willfully ignore the ramifications of what happened and what could very well happen as he moves ahead, a practice commonly known as un-conscious creation or creation by default. His penchant for seeing things from this standpoint represents an inherent disregard for the responsibility that comes with using one’s beliefs to materialize one’s existence. And that can be fraught with consequences far more impactful than any of us can possibly imagine.

The pastor also fails to recognize that, when we stumble and fall by the wayside, others will often step up and take our place. Case in point – the rise of co-pastors Keon and Shakura Sumpter. Even though they may be inherently almost as sleazy as Pastor Childs, they’ve successfully managed to fill a void with their ministry. And, even if the comeback cleric were to be impeccably squeaky clean, he would still have to overcome the rise in popularity that his rivals have attained. Can he accomplish that? Moreover, can he do so without resorting to underhanded or vindictive ways, measures that could potentially taint his image even further?

As becomes apparent the further the film progresses, the odds truly are stacked against Lee-Curtis and Trinitie, no matter how hard they work at fulfilling their objective and regardless of how contrite they are (or appear) in doing so. While everybody is deserving of forgiveness – particularly when one toils sincerely to earn it – that doesn’t mean it’s going to pan out as hoped for or to the degree being sought. In the meantime, such a fool’s pursuit can lead to the needless expenditure of energy and resources that could be put to better use in other more promising endeavors. What’s more, engaging in desperate measures aimed at recouping what was lost can make one look ridiculous, particularly those that call for gimmicky behavior and the donning of garishly hideous outfits, such as the alleged designer finery that the pastor and first lady often sport in the film. Indeed, sometimes one is truly better off to let go and let God, advice that the woeful protagonists might be better off heeding themselves.

To drum up interest in the resurgence of his parish, Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) urges motorists on a busy highway to “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” in writer-director Adamma Ebo’s sidesplitting new mockumentary of the same name. Photo by Steve Swisher / © 2021 Pinky Promise LLC, courtesy of Focus Features.

Nobody likes hypocrites – unless, of course, they make good fodder for laughs, and such is the case in this hilarious new comedy, one that genuinely evokes ample chuckles, even in the face of its underlying serious subject matter. This mockumentary-style offering about a religious power couple as they attempt to rebound from a fall from grace pulls no punches in its critically biting humor and in its periodic forays into dramatic material, moves meant to draw attention to the innate insincerity of its protagonists (and some of its parishioners). In doing this, the film admittedly straddles a fine line between comedy and drama, presenting a carefully concocted mix that works much of the time but that occasionally becomes a little too heavy-handed for its own good. And, all joking aside, some viewers might easily become offended by this material, so they should carefully consider their decision to screen this offering. Nevertheless, “Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.” makes an impact with its fine performances by Sterling K. Brown, Regina Hall and its excellent supporting cast, as well as its wickedly delicious wit and ample sight gags, elements that will have viewers delightfully giggling with glee. This one might not have you on your knees, but you might easily fall over laughing. The film is currently playing theatrically and for streaming online.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with practicing our spirituality and allowing our connection to the divine to flourish within us. Whether we do this in quiet devotion or a group setting, it’s all good as long as it’s pursued with heartfelt, genuine sincerity. But, when ecclesiastical charlatans intercede and insist that they must speak on our behalf, especially when it comes to determining the course of our personal and spiritual well-being, we should consider switching on our skepticism radar, particularly when their recommendations are accompanied by imposing caveats and disquieting qualifications. Our celestial connections are our own, and our decisions to honk for Jesus and to save our souls should rest squarely with us as well.

Copyright © 2022, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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