Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown Star in Satire – The Hollywood Reporter

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Lee-Curtis Childs and “First Lady” Trinitie Childs, leaders of megachurches with matching thrones and a predilection for luxury goods, are delusional in different ways and to different degrees. Like Honk for Jesus. save your soul begins, they try to rebuild their congregation after a sexual misconduct scandal emptied the pews. With uncommon pride, he deflects blame, even if he is responsible. His tightly coiled, stand-by-your-man allegiance is unraveling, stitch by stitch. They are performed by Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall, virtuosos of forced smiles and performative laughter. Their depictions sidestep caricature as they navigate growing fractures between the Childs’ self-glorifying theatrics and their glimmers of self-awareness. If only the film around them was so finely tuned.

Developing a 2018 short of the same name, the sibling filmmakers known as the Ebo twins – writer-director-producer Adamma Ebo and producer Adanne Ebo – use a mix of mockumentaries and conventional narratives to ridicule the gospel prosperity, à la Bakkers, but from a distinctly black Southern perspective. There are suggestions that the coxswain is not just muddling the idea of ​​a personality cult slot, but is also wrestling with questions about religion as a vital connective tissue of a community, although these questions seem half-formed. As the strutting central duo “favors the Lord” with their mansion and high fashion, the overlong film often feels all dressed up with nowhere to go, turning into a repetitive collection of spoofy bits. A handful of heavily written moments stand out, suggesting the satire that might have been.

Honk for Jesus. save your soul

The essential

Two living characters in search of a story.

Place: Sundance Film Festival (previews)

To throw: Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown, Austin Crute, Conphidance, Nicole Beharie

Director-screenwriter: Adamma Ebo

1 hour 42 minutes

Brown’s self-absorbed extraordinaire asked filmmaker Anita (Andrea Laing), unseen but heard briefly near the end of the film, to ‘chronicle the ultimate comeback’: he and Trinitie are planning an Easter Sunday reboot of their church Baptist Wander to Greater Paths. All but five of the 25,000 worshipers fled, which was a boon to another Baptist church in Atlanta, Heaven’s House, to which many of them defected. Thanks to the influx of the mega-herd, married ministers Shakura and Keon Sumpter (a spot on Nicole Beharie and Conphidance) prepare to unveil their new, larger church, aka Heaven’s House 2.0. Their big event is also planned for Easter.

The issue of dueling re-openings serves as a sort of plot driver, but the film’s main trajectory is the awakening of Trinity, superbly played by Hall but too obviously telegraphed by the director. While his wife expects the doc to serve the all-important project of rehabilitating his reputation, First Lady Childs’ apprehensions about it are clear from the start, diluting the anticipated zing of the feature’s final stretches. Lee-Curtis’ hypocrisy also comes as no surprise, although a glimpse into the couple’s sex life offers a bolder glimpse than the clip of him preaching against homosexuality or the phone conversations with the lawyer. who negotiates settlements with the young men who are the pastor’s accusers. .

Writer-director Ebo has an eye for character types, but doesn’t always know what to do with them. An early sequence involving the so-called Devout Five, the devotees who chose not to stray from Wander to Greater Paths (they are played by Robert Yatta, Greta Marable Glenn, Crystal Alicia Garrett, Selah Kimbro Jones and Perris Drew) , going nowhere. The same can be said for a number of the film’s interactions, including Trinitie’s conversation with her mother (Avis-Marie Barnes), yet well acted. Honk for Jesus could have used more exchanges that contradict, complicate and enhance characterizations rather than hitting a well-worn groove.

The film’s only real tension comes when a cellphone recording watcher stands in silent disdain and chews gum at the side of the road where the Childs make a last ditch effort for support. Otherwise, the final sequences seem more ridiculous and pale than effective. Elsewhere, the film is most engrossing when the script lets in an ingrained weirdness. The central duo’s way of looking for rat and cockroach analogies to make their case has a terrific deadpan edge, and Brown puts a feverish spin on the eureka moment when the preacher proclaims that “Jesus was all about the shock factor. ” Trinitie’s encounter with former sister Denetta (a memorable Olivia D. Dawson) is full of passive-aggressive chatter, finding just the right degree of exaggeration.

Hall and Brown are a glorious kick to watch, their physique bordering on slapstick at times. For the most part, she is discreet and contained. And he’s extravagant without a word to express Lee-Curtis’ impatience with the world and his belief that he should be at his disposal, whether he’s flirting with a new acquaintance or trying to stop an accuser. anguished (Austin Crute). A car scene where the couple sings fervently, if not happily, to local Atlanta hip-hop (“Knuck If You Buck” by Crime Mob) seems to be the film’s most telling moment.

Ebo makes effective use of fake TV news clips and in particular a Greek chorus in the form of fictional callers to a Black Talk radio show. These voices weigh in on the megachurch scandal, with one of their questions being why Trinitie is staying with her disgraced husband. Alongside the script, Hall’s performance oscillates between a serious commitment to the spiritual and social relevance of the church (and church hats, just one facet of Lorraine Coppin’s dynamic costume design) and a bit of ambition. à la Lady Macbeth. “Bring me back to this stage,” she hisses in a moment of improvidence, making it no less important than her husband’s return to the pulpit.

Ultimately, however, Trinitia’s fate might matter less than the Sumpters’. Shedding light on the show-business side of for-profit religion, Ebo may not retain its satirical edge, but it does leave us pondering the young couple’s sincerity, a question with wider implications. Shakura and Keon are mirror images of the Childs – does that mean they’re inevitably headed down a similar route?

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