The Little Hours opens with a promising title sequence: medieval-era nun Aubrey Plaza leads a donkey through the woods as dramatic, orchestral music plays. The instinctive association one makes is to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a comparison that persists throughout, with visual references to the incomparably better film abounding.
I imagine Monty Python was front and center in writer-director Jeff Baena’s mind when he decided to follow that title sequence with a scene wherein medieval nun Aubrey Plaza and friends scream bloody murder at a groundskeeper in contemporary American (with ample use of not-particularly-clever contemporary curse words). I bet Baena thought he really was making a modern day Monty Python, infusing some David Wain-Wet Hot American Summer vibes into the Monty Python tradition of (a)historical comedies.
What Baena was actually doing, however, was making a far-too-long and not-very-good Funny or Die sketch. This is evident almost immediately, as the film tells its one joke (these medieval people talk like modern people and also they curse a lot) before it establishes anything else about the world it’s proposing. As soon as Aubrey Plaza and co. begin to ream out that poor groundskeeper, the joke’s been told and the audience could just as well get up and walk out.
This movie should have been a home run, considering the cast and even the premise. I bet it would have been a home run, too, if someone else had directed it. Unfortunately, the direction and cinematography here are so flat and uninspired –The Little Hours is digitally glossed throughout, amplifying healthily its web-video soul – that there is literally no benefit to watching in a theater instead of on your iPhone. Also don’t watch it on your iPhone because it’s not good and there are better things you can be doing with your time.
I mentioned Wet Hot earlier, and it does feel like that’s what this film is mimicking even more than The Holy Grail. But it’s like the only thing that Baena took away from Wet Hot was “Random! Random Things™ are funny! Let’s do Random Things™!” He has no apparent grasp on what made the individual pieces of that movie work so well – how precisely the jokes were told, how incredibly detailed the sight gags were.
Alison Brie and Dave Franco are the leads of this movie. Their story is so boring and old that I’m not going to recount any of the plot here at all. Neither lead is particularly good, neither is funny at all, and neither of them belong in this film. Alison Brie in particular is not meant for this brand of comedy. In supporting roles of varying import, Kate Micucci, John C. Reilly, Nick Offerman and Molly Shannon each manage to extract a laugh here or there.
Baena previously made Life After Beth and Joshy, and I honestly am befuddled as to why he wants to be making movies at all. While neither of his prior films are quite as awful as The Little Hours – they both have their moments – none of his work is cinematic in any sense of the word. I bet Baena could run a pretty decent Comedy Central show, or maybe do something cool for Netflix or Amazon. I just can’t understand why someone with no apparent interest in original, quality filmmaking would continue to churn out completely unimportant, unimpressive, and unnecessary movies like this one.