‘Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.’ – Matthew 7:21-23
That’s the verse I thought of right away when I first heard of the premise of this movie. It’s a satirical comedy about a disgraced Southern Baptist pastor who, along with his wife, stages a comeback after an infidelity scandal forces the closing of his megachurch. The biggest coup for the movie is having a dynamic duo Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall as Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs and first lady Trinitie. Writer/director Adamma Ebo, in her feature film debut, employs a Christopher Guest mockumentary to tell the story. The characters would be talking to the camera as they’re talking to the unseen documentarian, as they seemingly go about their lives post-scandal.
I’m not exactly well-versed in religious scandals as I didn’t know that the story was loosely inspired by the late Atlanta bishop Eddie Long who was embroiled in a sex scandal involving young men back in 2010. The story apparently is a personal one for Ebo and her twin sister Adanne who produces the film, as they too grew up going to a megachurch in Atlanta. In fact, the movie is born out of the short they made in 2018 with the same name. It’s quite a feat that their first feature also counts Jordan Peele as one of the producers!
In a world that’s becoming more and more secular, Christianity is an easy target and obviously the ‘saint turn sinner’ is a juicy story. Now, as someone who firmly believes that the Christian faith is NOT defined by those who claim to be a Christ believer, this story speaks more about a specific subset of commodified religion–specifically the prosperity gospel ‘ministry’–than it is about faith in Jesus Christ the way it’s intended. Everyone in Rev. Childs household clearly worships the house of PRADA or [insert another expensive European designer], as Trinitie’s huge closet and their lavish mansion complete with a large swimming pool rival the Kardashians’.
I presume the Childs’ idea to be documented is to appear ‘transparent’ to the former members of their congregation, numbering up to 25,000 in the heights of their career. It’s totally l lost to me why they thought that showing them living so lavishly, with no regard for those in need, would win the churchgoers’ hearts again. In any case, the first few scenes are quite amusing as Rev. Childs often forgets that he’s being filmed, he gets into a foul-mouthed rage when he steps on chewing gum that ruins his expensive Italian-brand shoes. Hall’s comic chops make me chuckle as she constantly has to apologize for her husband’s snafus and asks the documentarian to reshoot.
As a satire, I think this story has a lot of potential and they’ve got such a talented cast in Hall and Brown. Even the supporting actors are terrific, notably, Conphidance and Nicole Beharie as the Sumpters, the young, up-and-comer preachers who fill in the void the Childs left with their own growing church. The part where the Sumpters think Lee-Curtis and Trinitie visit them for marriage counseling made me giggle. If only there were more laughs to be had though. Some of the jokes don’t land well and often appear awkward, especially during the ‘honk for Jesus’ scene itself as the Childs go more desperate for a successful comeback. The mockumentary style isn’t consistent either, as the doc filmmaker certainly isn’t in the bedroom during the cringe-inducing sex scene. The story is ripe for a biting satire but the way it’s presented is more amusing than profound.
Despite the leads’ committed performances, the film doesn’t prove to be a satisfying one. Most of the characters appear as one dimensional, even though there are moments where Hall’s Trinitie are palpably conflicted in her role as First Lady. It would be nice to see her character explored a bit deeper. Ultimately it also rings hollow with no real evolution to any of the characters nor does it offer any a resolution to their situation. I wonder if perhaps it had worked better as a short film, but regardless, I am curious what the Ebo sisters will work on next.
This film is now in theaters and available to stream on PeacockTV.
Have you seen Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.? I’d love to hear what you think!