Review: ‘Honk for Jesus’ a divine comedy with stunning insight into marital dynamics – SF Chronicle Datebook

The funniest comedy of the season is also the most interesting drama. “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” is a tonally brilliant achievement that swings effortlessly from uncomfortable humor to moments of blazing emotion. Writer-director Adamma Ebo gives Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown the opportunity to do the best work of their lives — and they seize the opportunity.
They play a married pair of evangelical preachers, Lee-Curtis (Brown) and Trinitie Childs (Hall), who own a super church and live in palatial splendor. But as the movie begins, their church is closed and they’ve lost their congregation because of allegations of sexual impropriety on the part of Lee-Curtis. So the movie starts in an unexpected place — their glory days are past, and they’re attempting a comeback.
Much of the movie, including most of the early scenes, takes the form of a mock documentary. Trinitie and Lee-Curtis are being followed around by a fly-on-the-wall filmmaker, and Trinitie, especially, is intent on presenting a positive image onscreen.
Hall has always been able to find comedy in scenes where she’s trying to put good face on a bad situation, but here she’s downright virtuosic. In a typical scene she’ll be watching her husband talk on camera, clocking him second by second, anticipating everything that might go wrong, all while keeping a big and almost convincing smile on her face. This is comic acting at its best — subtle, complex, very funny and unsettlingly real.
Sterling K. Brown sheds his ‘This Is Us’ persona to play funny in genre-bending movie
A lesser filmmaker would have made “Honk for Jesus” as a movie about two phonies. But Adamma Ebo understands this world. We may see the couple as materialistic con artists, but they see themselves as flawed yet valiant crusaders leading people to the Lord. Thus, this is not a movie about a gravy train coming to an end, but about a couple whose self-conception and reason for being are under threat. What we see as comedy is catastrophe for them, and then, as Ebo draws us close to the characters, we start to see through their eyes.
What emerges, in addition to the satire of the evangelical Black church, is a detailed portrait of a complicated marriage. We know about their sex lives, and we know everything about how they interact under pressure. Hall has a great monologue in which Trinitie tears into the documentarian, saying that she’s known all along that the filmmaker was out to make her look bad — and, of course, Trinitie is right. If you ever had any doubt that Hall is a certified powerhouse, watch this scene and become a believer.
As Lee-Curtis, Brown has less opportunity to ride the big waves of emotion, but he convincingly conveys the magnificence of a born performer, a flimflam man who’s so good at what he does that he even convinces himself.
Brown is also the driving force in one of the single best scenes of the year.
Without giving too much away, Lee-Curtis is flirting with a documentary crew member, and things don’t go quite as planned. Watching Brown in that scene is like watching someone doing an elaborate skating routine, who, within seconds, ends up beneath the surface of the ice. But, of course, he recovers. Brown is just too good an actor.
In fact, “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” contains some of the best acting you’ll see all year.
N“Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul”: Satire comedy-drama. Starring Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown. Directed by Adamma Ebo. (R. 102 minutes.) In theaters and available to stream on Peacock starting Friday, Sept. 2.

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