There are several moments in Adamma Ebo’s “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, that you may feel guilty for laughing because of the sexual misconduct underlying theme, but stars Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown as First Lady and Pastor of a megachurch deliver such exquisite performances that the mockumentary comedy rises above the weighty source material inspired by but not based on a true story. Shades of “The Office” are prevalent, and while it would be easy to assume that this is an empathy-free comedy, Hall parallels Jessica Chastain’s Tammy Faye Bakker performance, giving the audience hope that a silver lining scenario may present itself.

First, can I get a “Halleluiah!” for Hall and Brown? The actors transform into characters Trinitie Childs and Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs so effortlessly that it feels like you’re watching a real documentary. The film, written and directed by Adamma Ebo and produced by her twin sister Adanne Ebo, began as a short in 2018. The sisters, raised Southern Baptist in Atlanta, grew up in the church and occasionally struggled with the message delivered from the pulpit — they knew reading “Harry Potter” wasn’t a one-way ticket to Hell — and when the Pastor Eddie Long scandal broke in 2010, the news put the Ebo sisters on a path to confront the megachurch hypocrisy with what became “Honk for Jesus.”

The satire begins with Hall’s Trinitie speaking to the camera, “Every woman is not built for the great responsibility of being a First Lady.” She goes on to explain how she and her husband Lee-Curtis have the tenacity of rats and they will eventually gnaw through the scandal and make it to the other side. Uncomfortable and at a loss for words, she adds, “You can cut.”

The cinéma vérité style scenario with the Childs speaking directly to the camera becomes commonplace as the couple decides to tell their story by hiring an award-winning documentary filmmaker named Anita (voiced by Andrea Laing), who’s notorious for keeping the camera rolling unbeknownst to her subjects, to document their comeback slated for Easter Sunday.

The megachurch run by the Childs closed a year ago after several men came forward and accused Lee-Curtis of sexual misconduct. Settlements were paid out, Trinitie stood by her man, and now the couple believes the timing is right to reopen the church. Lee-Curtis explains “I’m Rocky up in this fight” but Trinitie reminds him “Rocky didn’t win.” She informs her husband that Rocky went the distance but lost to Apollo Creed. As Lee-Curtis angrily chews his breakfast, he thinks for a minute and replies “Alright, but he did win in Rocky 2.” He then tells Trinitie, “Lord baby get past the first movie!”

“This Is Us” actor Sterling K. Brown is so charismatic as Lee-Curtis that it’s easy to believe that he could lead a 25,000-member congregation and Regina Hall, using her facial features and the timing of her responses, excels at giving us clues that she’s an intelligent woman who will only go so far to support her man. It may be the Christian thing to do, however, one feels that Christianity is the least of Lee-Curtis’ concerns.

Like most megachurch pastors, we see the Childs living the life of luxury. God has graced them with a mansion, a Prada wardrobe, and Italian leather shoes. In one scene Lee-Curtis gets chewing gum on the bottom of his shoes. He screams the S-bomb a couple of times and then wonders how anyone is going to take the resurrection of his church seriously with gum on his Italian loafers, “These are Fianos!” Trinitie, standing by her man once again, looks at the camera and plays damage control, “Even Jesus lost it in the temple that day” adding “There was probably gum in the temple too.” Hall is hilarious, the scene feels like it’s straight out of “The Office.”

Like the NBC sitcom and Rob Reiner’s “This Is Spinal Tap,” Ebo’s mockumentary, with its deadpan humor, is very funny. Hall and Brown knock it out of the ballpark with first-rate performances as they take on organized religion. As the story moves forward empathy creeps in for Hall’s Trinitie especially when we see her shaking it on the side of the road while holding a sign that reads Honk for Jesus. Lee-Curtis, using a megaphone, instructs her to “Shake it for the Lord” because they aren’t getting enough beeps. If that wasn’t bad enough, in another scene Hall appears in whiteface alongside the road, miming Marvin Sapp’s “Never Would Have Made It” after Lee-Curtis begs her to do it for him. You can tell she’s humiliated but once again Trinitie goes along with her husband’s wish.

In supporting roles, Conphidance and Nicole Beharie play The Sumpters, rival pastors who picked up most of the Childs’ congregation after their church closed, and Austin Crute appears as Khalil, a former congregant and one of the young men who accused Lee-Childs of sexual misconduct. The film’s serious overtone, pertinent to the story, isn’t a smooth transition from the comedy. It’s a bit jarring, but the Ebo sisters deliver a statement about megachurches and the Southern Baptist religion that rarely makes it onto the big screen. Tonal differences aside, the film accomplishes what it sets out to do while delivering plenty of laughs along the way.

(3 stars)

Now showing in theaters and streaming on Peacock

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Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.