Regina Hall plays Trinitie Childs, the “First Lady” of her husband’s Atlanta Southern Baptist megachurch (Sterling K. Brown). They had 25,000 parishioners. “Honk for Jesus. “Save Your Soul” opens with five remaining fans. A scandal has decreased their ranks, and an unseen woman named Anita is filming Lee-Curtis Childs’ atonement tour. The disgraced pastor promises his wife a “Rocky”-style comeback. She says, “Rocky lost.” This is one of many ominous comparisons.
Trinity and Lee-Curtis act up on camera. Ebo alters the aspect ratio to show us the mockumentary and private details. The Childs sit on gilded thrones in front of their empty church for Anita’s camera, explaining “praise miming.” Lee-Curtis is a razzle-dazzle Protestant pastor, constantly on and dressed to match. “I love Prada,” he says as the camera flies through his closet full of suits, so many colors they embarrass Joseph’s coat. Only children’s shoes are crazier.
Trinitie is a faithful, supportive, and petty pastor’s wife. It’s no wonder that fate will make her life a living hell of embarrassment because she keeps up appearances. A sequence between her and Sister Denetta (Olivia D. Dawson), a former parishioner, is a humorous and realistic exercise in Southern passive-aggressiveness. If you’re a church lady or know one, this scene will ring true and be hilarious.
Where did the Wander to Greater Paths worshippers go? Keon and Shakura Sumpter’s new churches (Conphidance and Nicole Beharie, respectively). Heaven’s House church is so large that the Sumpters had to open a second site. The Childs’ grand opening coincides with Lee-Curtis’ return to the pulpit on Easter Sunday.
What good are untrained disciples? Lee-Curtis asks when accused of firing deacons. Jesus. Save Your Soul “asks Lee-Curtis the same question. Ebo gets mileage from snatches of a call-in radio show where Atlanta people vent their ideas. Footage of Rev. Childs’ lecture against homosexuality reminds me that my church told me Jesus hated me and my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Lee-Curtis blames Satan for his faults. “The Devil’s a bug,” he says. If he looked under the floorboards, he’d know.
“Honk for Jesus” is sarcastic and mocks Ebo’s hypocrisy. “Save Your Soul” is amusing. The film’s flaws show as it tries to juggle darker elements. The last 15 minutes combine hilarious images with terrible interactions. Hall and Brown save the film. Hall’s face has subtle and grandiose expressions, and she understands when to use them. Few actresses could perform disaster scenarios in mime makeup. Lee-Curtis requested she publicise their reunion with a flamboyant Black Jesus monument. Hall exploits its pathos to the utmost.
The usually austere Brown rushes at the chance to show off his comedy abilities. Lee-Curtis is a strutting peacock who’s egotistical, deluded, and self-loathing. He believes in saving souls, but not his own. Trinitie sees through him when he offers an Oscar-worthy plea for forgiveness during his practise sermon. She encourages him to “be more convincing.”
Beharie is great. Her facial expressions are as precious as Hall’s, and she enjoys the children’s misfortune. Shakura graciously declines Trinitie’s request to move the church’s grand opening. This playacting of niceties provides much of the film’s humour. Ebo’s darker sequences don’t land well.
Still, it’s good reading if you grew up in the church or attend a prosperity gospel megachurch. I can’t think of another movie with as much venom as “Knuck If You Buck” and “Never Would Have Made It.” Hall and Brown’s automobile trip performance of the latter is a modern-day “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Even the most devoted can’t resist a nice, sinful set of bars, as these two “people of God” prove. Lee-Curtis says, “I’m a sinner, not a pervert.” God and the viewer decide.