You’re probably as optimistic about The Little Hours as I was; hey, that’s why you’re here, waiting for me to tell you all about it. You saw the all-star comedic cast: it includes Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Dave Franco, John C. Reilly, Kate Miccuci, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Nick Offerman, and Paul Reiser. The tagline is good marketing: Medieval nuns … lead a simple life in their convent. [Then] Father Tommasso brings on new hired hand Massetto, a virile young servant forced into hiding by his angry Lord. Introduced to the sisters as a deaf-mute to discourage temptation, Massetto struggles to maintain his cover as the repressed nunnery erupts in a whirlwind of pansexual horniness, substance abuse, and wicked revelry.”
Pansexual horniness? Medieval nunnery? Substance abuse and wicked revelry? SOLD. Problem is, this movie’s not a comedy. I’m not sure it even knows what it is. Want to know why? Read on.
The Little Hours
Directors: Jeff Baena
Release Date: June 30th, 2017
There’s not a ton for me to say about The Little Hours. As usual, good does accompany the bad, but here they don’t add up to the sum of all parts.
The cast does what they can when they can, but the script is terrible. I’m not sure how most of the powerhouse cast was convinced to do this movie, especially given director Jeff Baena’s limited experience. I feel like he pitched them the same synopsis that we got, only ever shared limited parts of the script with the various cast, and kept them in the dark enough that they didn’t catch on to exactly what they were shooting.
The attempts at humor are there. The opening scene between Nick Offerman as a lord, his wife, and their servant, Dave Franco, is gold and seems to promise much. Offerman, in particular delivers a wonderful turn as an uber-dry medieval lord much beguiled by brutal descriptions of violence and by actual torture (it turns out). He’s simply put, perfect for the role. After that, this masquerade of a medieval-set, modern comedy gives way to what is at times an incredibly vested portrayal of medieval nunnery in all authenticity possible. The detail that went in to many of the scenes is incredible. But then, this seriousness is chiseled down to a mere mockery of what it portrayed by the expected outburst of Aubrey Day emblazoned “Fuck yous!”
There is horniness, a nunnery, substance abuse and a form of wicked revelry, but not like you’d expect, and it likely won’t make you laugh--it certainly didn’t make me break a smile. There’s very serious, and embraced threeway rape scene where Sister Fernanda (Plaza) has a knife to Masseto’s (Franco) throat for the duration, although, granted, he does seem to come to enjoy the moment. There are witches, and people shouting about witches, but it’s not funny either. Yet, when they deal with witchcraft in the serious fashion it would have been dealt with (across medieval Europe, hundreds, if not thousands of people were killed as witches), they sort of make a joke of it, but don’t. Yet it’s definitely not done in full jest. The script doesn’t pick either direction, and as such, suffers the worse for it. Which is sad: the cinematography is beautiful--there’s real talent behind the lens from a visual standpoint. The team assembled a talented and capable cast. The historical accuracy, at times, is laudable. But it’s all wasted due to a lack of identity and understanding of that identity--and a true comedic script. Or not--pick one, and embrace it. You can’t have it pretend to be both from time to time.
My best guess is that someone had an idea for a film that seemed like it could be fairly funny given a proper script and the right acting panache. They actually got the panache, but don’t seem to have had the talent to deliver the necessary script. Halfway through, I was waiting for it to end.