Jeff Baena’s The Little Hours – maybe better titled The Young Nuns (these nuns say “fuck”) – is a one-note pun played with staccato enthusiasm. Nasty women of the church sin their dirty hearts out, tempted by homosexuality, heresy and treacherous intent – all in the name in individuality, of course. With so many of today’s millennials struggling between survival and happiness, Baena suggests the Middle Ages weren’t so different. Peasants yearning for something more, bound to mindless responsibility. Such a common theme among generations, channeled through Renaissance raunch with repetition on the menu.
In this warped convent tale, Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) shepherds a flock of holy women who are anything but. Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) openly swears and breaks curfew, which eventually rubs off on Alessandra (Alison Brie) and Genevra (Kate Micucci). They stay up late drinking communal wine (whatever Tommasso hasn’t chugged), partaking in actions no deity would approve of. This is all before a new helper boy named Massetto (Dave Franco) begins performing odd jobs around their hallowed grounds, and hormones begin to rage. Can this house of God be saved from its devilish influence? Let’s just say Bishop Bartolomeo (Fred Armisen) might need to extend his visit.
The Little Hours is a wry acquired taste; initial love of cast members a plus. Those who scoff at the thought of Aubrey Plaza’s deadpan pokes defining a whole film should be warned. “Odd” and “quirky” moments attempt to modernize actions while still remaining periodically correct, as nuns and feudal lords clash in conflict. Nick Offerman hilariously rules without a hint of “ye olde” English, but Banea has no other tricks up his sleeve. Alison Brie fights gender injustice as an innocent nun who discovers carnal pleasures, Plaza blurts the foulest words and Kate Micucci exudes the energy of a hamster on acid. You’ll see every move coming – telegraphed by immediate “fucks.”
Fred Armisen’s role as Bartolomeo by-and-large delivers the film’s heartiest laughs. His veteran character chops translate the mustiest zingers and host holy disbelief with humorous enlightenment. Bartolomeo’s job is easy – read through each woman’s list of sins – and even though The Little Hours momentarily becomes an infinitely funnier Portlandia skit, Armisen strengthens Banea’s structure. Plaza and Brie continually act like they’re in on a gag, but Armisen is a stone-faced professional. Adam Pally the same. Offerman, Molly Shannon, John C. Reilly – every supporting act is rather stellar. Maybe it’s a question of overkill? The less time spent on screen seems to dictate more infallible performances. Less just might be more.
Listen. I’m Plaza ride-or-die, hooked on Brie and a champion of anything Miccuci touches. Do mean-spirited scenes filled with gardener beat-ups strike a few laughs? Indeed. Let Miccuci off any leash and she’s a spunky little dynamo whose bombastic actions complement Plaza’s more emotionally-crippling attacks (they berate their helpers for no reason, deal with it). Is the segue dialogue cold and trivial? Tremendously. We know where lusty inhibitions are headed once Dave Franco’s enchanting charms enter stage left. Maybe not ALL the way – Miccuci’s tribal bush-beating comes in the most sinfully outrageous fashion – but The Little Hours holds no secrets. This becomes tedious as comedy drags and momentum sputters, but fans of dry, leathery witlessness should find just enough to bark at with enjoyable bewilderment.
There are two reasons The Little Hours is getting a pass right now from this critic – Fred Armisen and Kate Miccuci. Jeff Banea’s off-color blasphemy isn’t as cheeky as it believes, but that doesn’t stop these two from going brazenly bananas. This isn’t to say the likes of Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and more belong in silenced boxes. Only a comment on two enthusiastic comedians who better grapple the larger nothingness at hand. Like if Jared Hess somehow mixed with Judd Apatow, and gave religious entitlement a big-old middle finger (Don Verdean, this is not). Good girls doing bad things, making a mockery of the cloth. Sounds like a fun concept? If April Ludgate is your favorite Parks And Rec character, then get excited!
The Little Hours is saved by Fred Armisen and Kate Miccuci, the only performers who don't suffer from the film's one-note delivery at some point.