John C. Reilly
1 Hr., 30 Mins.
The Little Hours
ike Ivan Reitman’s Twins (1988) and Matt Piedmont’s Casa de mi padre (2012), Jeff Baena’s The Little Hours (2017) is a one-joke movie that eventually comes to lost its luster after the repetitious rib tickles start wearing thin. Its claim to fame is neither the gag that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito spent their time in the womb together nor that Will Ferrell is a fluent Spanish speaker but that 14th-century nuns love cussing, fucking, and getting high.
Its absurdist, anachronistic style is winningly executed for at least the first
act – then it peters out. Which is inevitable, I guess, since the laughs essentially come from our delight in seeing seemingly conservative medieval figures hurl obscenities and get themselves in the kind of troubles Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini’d blush at.
The film, set in 1347, respectively stars Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, and Kate Micucci as Fernanda, Alessandra, and Ginevra, young nuns toiling away in the confines of a stuffy convent in rural Tuscany. Although most of their peers have taken to sisterhood as a result of their wanting to dedicate their lives to their religion, this trio is a self-serving bunch, around either out of obligation or an understanding that they don’t have much better to do.
Alessandra is only at the convent because her father is one of its biggest benefactors. Ginerva, an unstable gossip, figures she might as well use God to cover up her homosexuality. The rabid, trouble-making Fernanda is there, I suppose, because making her particular brand of trouble in a site so utopian thrills her.
If the movie were simply a day-to-day account of their lives at the nunnery, it’d perhaps be a bore, exciting only when Fernanda decides to create havoc or invite her friend Marta (Jemima Kirke) over to get wasted. But The Little Hours instead revolves around a crossing of paths that leads to much comedic turmoil. Just as we’re getting to know this triad, we’re introduced to Massetto (Dave Franco), a hunky servant who takes a job as a gardener at the monastery after it is discovered that he was having an affair with his former master’s (Nick Offerman) wife (Laura Weedman).
Throw him into this mostly female environment and you can bet all hell’s bound to break loose.
That breaking loose is messy and high-octane, fitting for a movie that can appropriately be compared to the 1970s output of the joke-a-minute maestro Mel Brooks. But even then, nothing can really compare to The Little Hours’s first act, which is infectiously foul (“You fucking pervert!” Fernanda screams at a helpless groundskeeper just as the film gets going) and lives up to the goofy premise it brazenly introduces. Brie, Plaza, and Micucci pull off the whole nuns-gone-wild thing masterfully – Plaza’s a particular hoot – and Baena’s script, for a time, keep the laughs coming with just the right amount of intelligent idiocy and vigor. And you can never go wrong seeing Offerman in a He-Man wig eating mutton or a cameoing Fred Armisen dressed in the pope’s regalia.
Once the end of the middle act comes around and everything becomes a hellscape of bawdy, batshit comedy, then The Little Hours loses its way and doesn’t really revert back to being the uproarious romp it was during its introductory chapter. But that introductory chapter! The movie’s sort of throwaway and periodically inspired – typical of an independent comedy with this starry a cast – but when it intends to shake us, it goes all out. C+