The Little Hours (2017)
★★ / ★★★★
Short on story but not on enthusiasm, “The Little Hours” manages to stay afloat because of the risks it is willing to take to get a laugh. Had writer-director Jeff Baena decided to tweak the script in such a way that the story commands heft and daring to make strong but objective statements about the hypocrisy of religious practitioners, it might have worked both as a farce and a satire. Instead, what results is a forgettable goofy comedy set during the Middle Ages with occasionally amusing scenes. It wears out its welcome about three-quarters through its already short running time of ninety minutes.
Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, and Kate Micucci play nuns who wish to have more in life than revering an invisible being in the sky. Equipped with different approaches to make the audience laugh, their ability or willingness to throw their inhibitions to the wind is their commonality as performers and what ties their characters together. Since each strategy to get us to laugh is so distinct, arguably jarring, at times it feels as though these characters do not belong in a single movie but of three. While this may annoy others, I found it fresh and interesting. It gives the impression that the material can go in multiple directions.
Plaza, as usual, outshines her co-stars, colorful in their own way, because she plays with the possibility that her character is mentally unstable, deranged. The decision to give off a level of danger is a masterstroke because it makes the viewers curious about the character, that perhaps she is a bomb waiting to go off. By contrast, we do not sense this alluring danger with Brie or Micucci. The other two performers play it cute or quirky, a more expected route in farcical comedy.
The story is missing a defined heart although a hint of it is there. I believe it can be found in the romance between Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) and Sister Marea (Molly Shannon). There are small and evanescent moments when Reilly and Marea play their characters as if they were in a drama, particularly Shannon. I wished to know more about Sister Marea because those eyes give the impression that she has been trapped for so long in an institution that she may at one point believed in but believes in no longer. At least not when it comes to its strict rules. Shannon’s eyes are so soulful at times that I wondered whether the character considered the romance as path toward freedom; that if they got caught together then they would be free of their shackles.
“The Little Hours” is not for the easily offended nor is it for prudes. Sexual jokes are the opposite of subtle and the material is willing to experiment with what may be considered to be gross behavior, certainly cringe-worthy, especially from men and women of god. But that is the point, I think. It shows that, like us, men and women of the cloth have intense sexual desires, too. Prepare to spot more than a few handfuls of anachronisms.