The only misstep in the infectious family film Preaching to the Choir is its unfortunate title. There may be preaching and there may be a choir, but there is no redundant and self-congratulatory moralizing in this Afro-indie, which should have an appeal that is considerably broader than its limited release would suggest.
The narrative follows the fortunes of Wesley and Teshawn, two brothers who were orphaned as children in North Carolina. Raised by an aunt in Harlem, the brothers set off on biblically divergent paths. Wesley is the pious one, stiff and humorless, who remains at home and follows his calling to the pulpit. Teshawn, on the other hand, ventures off into hip hop and becomes famous as a thuggish performer named Zulunatic. When a dispute erupts between Teshawn and a Suge Knight-like mogul, the prodigal brother returns home to Harlem to seek refuge in his brother’s church.
The ensuing tale is delightful for its lack of pretension, melodrama or sanctimony. Indeed, there’s a modest dollop of raunchy humor, and the film is willing to have some fun at the expense of black entertainers who take themselves too seriously. On the other hand, this is a film that features Eartha Kitt in a cameo, and shoutouts to the likes of Mahalia Jackson and Marcus Garvey. Most refreshing is the film’s willingness to break the shackles of genre convention, as when the film unleashes an unexpected musical production number, one that vanishes as quickly as it appeared.
At a time when “family movie” is code for animated animal movies, a film like Preaching to the Choir revives the kind of family film that used to be more commonplace. Like the Hollywood family entertainments of yore, Preaching to the Choir is a wholesome film that contains enough diverse appeal and narrative surprise to satisfy everyone.
Preaching to the Choir opens Friday.