'The Little Hours'
The success of ‘Bridesmaids’ spawned a trend of “gals behaving badly” comedies which have, for the most part, been amusing little larks. ‘The Little Hours’ comes with a hell of a twist. Those gals behaving badly? Well, they’re nuns. Even though the setting is 14th Century Italy, the speech and comedy are contemporary. The whole thing is very absurd, naughty and hilarious.
Truthfully, there’s not much to writer/director Jeff Baena’s film beyond delightfully blasphemous silliness, but when the laugh count is this high that doesn’t really matter.
The inspiration for the movie is the medieval text ‘The Decameron’, a short story collection of randy and violent hijinks from an era not exactly known for such things. Baena’s been kind enough to spruce it up for contemporary audiences, pitched somewhere between an HBO shock comedy festival and the original text. His mischievous little tale takes place at a convent that feels like a wacky boarding school. Aubrey Plaza plays an eye-rolling nun who’s fed up with your shit and everyone else’s (i.e. a standard Aubrey Plaza type). Allison Brie plays a repressed young woman who desperately wants to marry out of her religious duties. Kate Micucci is a naïve nun who’s confused about her sexuality and pretty much every other aspect of life. Molly Shannon is the “Look the other way” specialist at the top of the nun heap, and John C. Reilly is the drunken Father essentially in charge of it all. Things get weird when Reilly brings in Dave Franco to work in the convent and pretend to be a deaf mute. He’s on the run, escaping a hilariously psychotic Nick Offerman, who ran Franco off his property after sleeping with his wife. Franco’s presence awakens all sorts of forbidden feelings in the ladies of the cloth surrounding him, and that’s when all hell breaks loose (naturally).
We’re very much in farce territory here, with a gleeful R-rating and disregard for the niceties of most church-bound tales. By coincidence, the plot could be viewed as a parody of ‘The Beguiled‘, but that’s unlikely deliberate. Aside from the cheeky medieval score and the occasional 1970s snap zoom, Baena isn’t mocking any particular form of filmmaking or storytelling. This isn’t some sort of meticulously constructed Mel Brooks or Monty Python-style pisstake of a popular genre. It’s just a dirty little comedy with a period setting that cranks up the religious repression and adds to the shock value. Baena stages and shoots everything well enough to feel like a film and not just an extended comedy sketch, but his focus is on performance and shock value. The movie has no deep-seated satire, no subtext agenda. It’s all about gathering together an A+ comedy cast and letting them cut loose.
Everyone is perfectly cast to type. Aubrey Plaza rolls her eyes and swears with poise. Allison Brie finds the right balance between portraying a young woman genuinely troubled by her repressed place in the world and a mockery of that archetype. Kate Micucci fearlessly commits with wide-eyed glee to her unhinged character and delivers some of her finest work. Dave Franco is ideally cast as a hunky goofball making exaggerated and uncomfortable expressions. Molly Shannon succeeds at playing things surprisingly straight. John C. Reilly gets some of the biggest laughs out of drunken reaction shots. Nick Offerman delivers a threating brute that’s somehow understated, and Fred Armisen gets to knock in a few big gags as the cardinal who shows up just in time to reprimand everyone. There isn’t a disappointment in the cast and everyone delivers the filth and the funny.
‘The Little Hours’ is a hysterical R-rated farce filled with great gags designed to make the clergy blush. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t have much going for it beyond the laughs. The subject matter leaves room open for religious satire or genre parody that could have lent style and purpose to the proceedings. Instead, this is just a joyfully filthy romp with a historic and religious setting for kicks. That’s fine. It’s still funny as hell, but you can’t help but wish that Baena dug a little deeper and delivered something more substantial. Still, given that this is one of the funniest flicks to hit screens all year, that’s easily forgivable. Nothing wrong with a little naughty fun, especially when everyone indulging in that naughtiness is so damn talented.