Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 20, 2022)
With a title like Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul., should we expect the 2022 film to offer a serious take on the topic of “megachurches”? Not consistently, though we get a mix of satirical comedy and relationship drama.
Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and his wife Trinitie (Regina Hall) acted as the heads of “Wander to Greater Paths”, a Southern Baptist “megachurch” with a massive congregation. However, when Lee-Curtis found himself embroiled in a scandal related to gay sex, their world collapsed.
The pair refuse to take this as the end of the line. They work to make a comeback and redeem themselves with their followers.
All of that sounds like a tale that some parties could use as inspirational and a sign of the ways God works to reward his flock. As indicated at the start, though, Honk prefers an edgier view.
Which I suspect the topic deserves. Though fictional, we’ve seen multiple real-world tales of so-called pious figures who preach one thing and do the other.
This means that Lee-Curtis enjoys plenty of actual figures who embarked on his “do as I say, not as I do” view of same-sex relationships. This makes him a character for whom the audience seems unlikely to hope to see succeed, as he obviously displays massive hypocrisy.
Trinitie comes with more room for viewer empathy, and she indeed becomes the more complex character. The film focuses more on Trinitie than it does Lee-Curtis, so expect to see a concentration on her journey.
Although I initially indicated that Honk provided a satirical comedy, that proves true only part of the time. A surprising amount of the film focuses on the interpersonal drama involved.
In an unusual choice, most of Honk flips between two separate aspect ratios. For scenes shot by a “documentary crew” that traces the hoped-for comeback, we get 1.55:1, but scenes intended to be “unfilmed” go with 2.39:1. (Some “archival” 1.33:1 footage also appears sporadically.)
This feels like a clever choice but it can potentially confuse the audience. It takes a while to see the differentiation, and I can’t claim it really adds to the film.
I get it: Honk asserts that “reality TV” is often phony. The 1.55:1 viewpoint allows us to see the “documentary” as contrived whereas the 2.39:1 gives us the actual interactions.
This theme doesn’t really work, though, as it feels tangential to the movie’s purpose. We don’t need a treatise on fake “reality”, as instead, the basic tale seems like enough to carry the movie.
The way Honk leaps from satire to serious also can feel awkward and not especially smooth. Honk plays like a mix of Waiting for Guffman and A Marriage Story, without a clean connection between the two sides.
Because the movie attempts to serve two themes, it lacks a particularly clear through-line. As noted, the comedy and the drama don’t mesh cleanly and the end result feels erratic.
Honk does boast good acting, especially from King. She plays the comedy in a realistic but still funny way, while she also doesn’t overdo a role that easily could become over the top and ridiculous.
Unfortunately, the uncomfortable mix of cinematic styles makes Honk only occasionally engaging. While I admire the ambition of the project, it just doesn’t link together well enough to succeed.