Review: The Little Hours: Sadly, Only Middling on Laughs


Kate Micucci is The Little Hours’ undisputed MVP. As Ginerva, she displays a tangible loneliness and commitment to the rules of the convent that gradually gives way to a hysterical (and hysterically funny) display of rebellion.

Starring Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, , Jemima Kirke, Nick Offerman, Lauren Weedman, Adam Pally, Jon Gabrus, The Little Hours is in theaters now.

In a list of sins that Bishop Bartolomeo (the wonderfully cast Fred Armisen) reads to disgraced nun Ginerva (Kate Micucci), he cites “mischief in the heart” among a long list of other transgressions. That particular note stood out to me, because it feels like an apt descriptor for what motivates the Jeff Baena-helmed tale of nuns behaving badly. The mischief in its heart is evident from the very first spray of nun-supplied expletives that lets you know something very different is happening here. Sadly, that mischief is displayed more in attempts to shock than actual comedy, and the film feels regretfully tepid as a result.

Because nuns cursing can only be a sustainable comic device for so long, writer-director Baena escalates the action through the arrival of a hired groundsman (Dave Franco) who is passed off as a deaf-mute to temper his attractiveness to the convent’s sisters. The ruse fails spectacularly, and spurs a three-way competition for his affections between the naive tattletale Ginerva, the love-starved Alessandra (Alison Brie), and the acerbic Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza, reprising April Ludgate and adding a habit). Once the shock of the cursing wears off, we’re then treated to the seduction attempts of the trio, and later a series of rituals to try to secure his love. I won’t spoil precisely what those efforts are, but I will share this train of thought that occurred during the screening: about twenty minutes in, I wondered what a Plaza-led production of The Crucible would look like; about forty minutes later, I had a good idea.

But Micucci is The Little Hours’ undisputed MVP. As Ginerva, she displays a tangible loneliness and commitment to the rules of the convent that gradually gives way to a hysterical (and hysterically funny) display of rebellion. Amidst tonal shifts that leave other characters high and dry, she maintains a hold on the humor of each moment she inhabits, and the movie is better for it.

While the overall conceit of the story (adapted from a tale in the Florentine novella collection The Decameron) felt as though it was absent a spark or two that would truly help the humor hang together, it was not without its standout performances. Jemima Kirke shows up in a manner somewhat similar to Plaza- as Girls’ Jessa, but in period appropriate dress; somehow, such a role fits in perfectly here. John C. Reilly and Nick Offerman each shine as a priest and a disgruntled soldier respectfully, while Lauren Weedman takes a small role as Offerman’s bored wife and allows it to soar. Between this role and her recurring character on this season of USA’s Playing House, Weedman is having a significant year- keep an eye out for her.

Another point in the film’s favor: its adept use of physically comedic moments. The lasting memories I carried from the theater included a hiding attempt by Franco during a tryst with Brie- in the inattentive presence of a very old fellow nun, as well as a diversion created for the benefit of two dungeon guards (played delightfully by Jon Gabrus and Adam Pally, who is far more enjoyable in this version of the past than in his own Making History). Leaning into this strength of the case may have yielded a funnier movie; take note, anyone contemplating a sequel or spinoff.

Is The Little Hours worth a watch? Sure, nuns behaving badly is a premise that delights for its inherent contradictions. But in this case, the laughs it yields amount to little more than a moderate case of the church giggles.

 

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Amma Marfo

Amma Marfo is a writer, speaker, and podcaster based in Boston, MA. Her writing has appeared in Femsplain, The Good Men Project, Pacific Standard, and Talking Points Memo. Chances are good that as you're reading this, she's somewhere laughing.