The Little Hours Finds a Comedic Clash Between the Modern and the Medieval
These nuns drop f-bombs for the lord.
It’s not all that difficult to find comedy in contrast, so the idea of mixing modern-day comedic sensibilities with a time period from long ago will always hold an appeal. It’s part of what makes Christopher Moore’s novel Fool so damn brilliant (with the bigger part being his actual writing), and it’s part of why some of us are still waiting for a History of the World Part II. It’s also what makes the premise of writer/director Jeff Baena’s (Life After Beth, Joshy) third feature film, The Little Hours, so ridiculously enticing and irresistible.
A trio of foul-mouthed, 14th century nuns – played by Alison Brie, Kate Micucci, and Aubrey Plaza – spend their days and nights in a convent honoring the Lord, but when a young man named Massetto (Dave Franco) arrives hoping to hide out from the master he cuckolded the convent’s darker secrets come to light.
Sister Alessandra (Brie) is simply biding her time and waiting for her father (a very funny and too-brief cameo by Paul Reiser) to find her a husband, but it’s not looking good. Sister Genevra (Micucci) is devoted to the point of snitching on the others to stay in good graces with their Mother Superior (Molly Shannon), but her desires and history are somewhat unconventional. And Sister Fernanda (Plaza)? She’s a stone-cold witch.
The first time our lead trio bust out the f-bombs and verbally assault the gardener for daring to look them in the eye it’s undeniably hilarious. The second time is also quite funny. Eventually though the anachronistic shock of what they’re mouthing grows a bit thin, and we’re left with a slight characters and a slighter story. The arcs here are minor at best, but perhaps knowing that Baena has made the smart move of stacking the film with very funny people.
The three leads are playing well within their wheelhouse – the softly chatty Brie, the mousy Micucci, the eye-rolling Plaza – and only Micucci gets the chance to move beyond it as Genevra goes to some very weird extremes. Even with some limitations though all three bring the laughs, and they’re not alone. The aforementioned Franco, Shannon, and Reiser each get to shine, while Nick Offerman delivers even before he opens his mouth as the lord who wants Massetto’s head… and then gets even funnier once he does start speaking. Fred Armisen maximizes his small role as a visiting bishop, and while it feels every bit like a Saturday Night Live character he squeezes every possible laugh out of both dialogue and expressions.
The Little Hour’s most valuable player though is, without a doubt, John C. Reilly. His Father Tommasso heads up the convent and enjoys a good prayer as frequently as he does a hard drink, and Reilly shapes him into the “fun boss” you miss from your job as a teenager at the record store. He’s stern in theory and openly kind, and he’s exactly what you expect from Reilly as a 14th century priest.
Baena’s packed his film with more than enough laughs to make for an entertaining enough watch, but it too frequently fizzles out on the narrative front. The arcs don’t amount to much, and while the film is inspired by the second tale in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Decameron it does very little beyond the setup. These would be more serious issues for a more serious film, but as it delivers plenty of laughs for its duration it’s difficult to fault The Little Hours for *only* being a funny film.