Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul Skewers Religious Hypocrisy

There’s a devilish, damnation-worthy idea at the heart of Jesus, please humbly. SAVE YOUR SOUL writer-director Adamma Ebo’s satire about the pastor and first lady of a Southern Baptist mega-church who scramble to reclaim their past glory—and keep their marriage alive—after a scandal sends their congregation scattering. Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown), the staggeringly charismatic pastor of Atlanta’s Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church, is the source of all the trouble, having instigated more than one illicit affair. But it’s his dutiful wife, Trinitie (Regina Hall), who’s left to do most of the heavy lifting. She’s chosen to stand by her husband’s side, facing up to his misdeeds and trying to clean up his messes, even as he peacocks around in his expensive suits, readying himself for his public redemption.

That setup is rich with possibilities, especially considering the couple have also welcomed a documentary filmmaker into their midst, to capture the events leading up to their church’s reopening. The couple fail to recognize how much of the messy details in their lives will be exposed by the camera. Lee Curtis looks clueless that this comeback is doomed to failure, and Trinitie works hard to prevent it from happening. Ebo is a prolific miner here and skewers the extravagant spending by church officials that preach hard against sins they commit. She’s attuned to the reality of women who work overtime to make their weak husbands look good. And she especially makes a point to call out the hypocrisy of Black churches that advocate love for all human beings—as long as they’re not gay.

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Hall and Brown

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Yet there’s almost too much going on in Jesus, please humbly.Without exploring each thematic theme fully, the film skips between them, with some scenes going on for longer than necessary. When Lee-Curtis and Trinitie become desperate to drum up attendees for the reopening, they turn to standing by the highway, advertising their upcoming event as if it were a circus—a portent if there ever were one. Lee-Curtis makes a loud, authoritative shout through a bullhorn while Trinitie flies around in high heels and church attire, with a sign to attract passersby. We’ve already taken stock of how Lee-Curtis controls and humiliates Trinitie; his manipulations intensify the more desperate he gets. Even though she may sometimes stand up for her own rights, her role is ultimately to support him. Although the roadside desperation dance, which could have been used sparingly to make a powerful sight gag, is far too lengthy and exaggerates the point.

However, this story is held together by the actors: Brown moves between snakelike ingenuity and believable earnestness at times. While you may want to love Lee-Curtis; Brown can make you sympathize with him. However, his feelings are intricate and complicated. And Hall has some terrific moments, including one in which Trinitie proudly shows Lee-Child an expensive and inventively space-age hat she intends to wear on comeback Sunday, and he cuts it—and her—down with spiteful, ageist rhetoric. It is an explosion of emotion compressed in a matter of seconds: her disappointment, which was tinged by anger, is evident.

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But it’s Nicole Beharie, in a supporting role, who practically walks off with the movie. She plays Shakura Sumpter, the slick co-pastor—with her husband, Keon (Conphidance, who had his breakthrough in the TV series Little America)—of a rising church that’s likely to cash in on the misfortunes of Wander to Greater Paths. Shakura recites scripture with all the enthusiasm of an A student. And even as she expresses fervent sympathy for Lee-Curtis and Trinitie’s predicament, she views their failure as her own glittering path to glory. Jesus, please humbly. Salvation for Your SoulYou are in complete synch with religion’s excessively showy side. The pageantry and showbiz can all be part of this, but it is also possible to conceal rampant ambitions or avarice. As Beharie plays her, Shakura is a future star: she sees her name written in lights—or is it the glory of God? Both are so blinding it’s hard to tell which is which.

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