There’s a fine line between outrageous and just loud. The Little Hours has a cast and a premise that should be gleefully silly and vulgar and amazingly comes out neither.
Here’s the premise: Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and Kate Micucci, an absolutely hilarious trio, are nuns pent up in a medieval convent. They lie and swear profusely, going as far as to berate their servant for just looking at them. Then their pastor played by John C. Reilly brings home a sexy new farm boy played by Dave Franco. He’s on the run for sleeping with his master’s wife, and his master is a plain spoken, bitter Nick Offerman. Franco is supposed to act like a deaf mute for his protection, but the girls get so hot and bothered that doesn’t last long. Debauchery ensues, witches dance naked in the woods, Fred Armisen shows up, you know the drill.
So where does The Little Hours go wrong? The story itself is not too unlike Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled.” In fact, The Little Hours is also based on a classic text, in this case “The Decameron.” And God knows “The Beguiled” is ripe for parody. But that film is all about slowly pent up sexual tension that eventually lashes out in unhealthy ways.
The Little Hours starts at 11 and tries to go for broke. The three nuns are horny nut jobs even before Dave Franco arrives. Plaza’s surly, morbid attitude on screen would be better served with a better director and screenwriter than Jeff Baena, because when she’s confessing her sins and barely hiding her lies, she doesn’t even have good dialogue to fall back on. In another scene, she doesn’t speak at all as she and Jemima Kirke of Girls decide to hold a knife to Dave Franco’s throat and take advantage of him. Oh good, a nun rape joke.
Baena would’ve earned some more leeway with this one-note joke if The Little Hours had some style. If it had the aesthetics of a Bergman movie or Black Narcissus, it could work as genre parody as well as a raunchy comedy. The Little Hours has a sunny gloss and simple sets that are merely superficial.
Reilly is a genuine actor, and he has a hilarious scene never balking as Franco, looking partially lost and stoned as he always does, describes in Victorian terms how he and his lover 69’d. Reilly has likely never had to say “sodomy” in his career quite so many times as he solemnly speaks it here.
And as in Band Aid, The Little Hours is the second movie this year that has Fred Armisen, of all people, stealing the show with a random, mid-movie cameo. Armisen in his bobbed wig and flowing robes could read any string of random nouns, as he practically does here as he’s reciting the nuns’ sins, and be funny.
His appearance might be the one instance though where The Little Hours has more range than just screaming obscenities in a nun outfit. Watching this would be a sin.