The trailer for Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. points toward a mockumentary style in the vein of Best in Show, promising a skewing of mega churches and their affluent families. In reality, Honk for Jesus tries to do it all, vacillating between light mockumentary and dark comedy, and ends up more confusing than effective.
The film stars acting powerhouses Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown as Trinitie and Lee-Curtis Childs, the heads of a prominent Southern Baptist Mega Church who become embroiled in scandal, lose most of their parishioners, and hire a documentary crew to film their comeback. To regain their status, they must figure out how to overcome the scandal and keep a young pastor couple (played by Nicole Beharie and Conphidance) from becoming the new stars.
At first, the film very much feels like your standard mockumentary comedy. The Childs seem clueless as they walk us through their church complex, giddy to show off their huge closet of designer clothes and their wildly expensive indoor fountain. Filtering everything through a religious, upbeat lens, they seem oblivious to their own vanity. As they continue, and the audience learns more about the scandal and this couple, things turn much darker. Hall and Brown are phenomenal dramatic actors and bring that weight to the screen. They’re so good, in fact, that soon it feels like you’re watching a very dark comedy and the subject matter seems much too heavy to work in a silly mockumentary. The switches between tones feel jarring and unsuccessful, further highlighted by aspect ratios that switch from standard when it’s being “filmed” and widescreen when the cameras aren’t rolling. While switching ratios is a clever device, trying to keep track of it as the film progresses is distracting and, again, jarring.
There are two admirable movies here, one a silly mockumentary lambasting corrupt religious figures who don’t even realize their quest for wealth and power doesn’t align with their message. The other is a dark drama about one-half of a power couple grappling with an awakening that she doesn’t hold as much sway and independence as she thinks. Unfortunately, mashing the two together doesn’t work and you end up with an uncomfortable mockumentary within a distracted drama.
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. was originally a short film. It makes sense that combining a dark comedy and mockumentary might work in short format but expanding it to feature length reveals its flaws. While Hall and Brown are unsurprisingly riveting as Trinitie and Lee-Curtis Childs, the rest of the film gets too tripped up in its own devices to be effective. Much as the Childs seem oblivious to their own vanities, the film seems too wrapped up in itself to see how confusing it is to an audience's perspective.