The Little Hours – Quirky Isn’t Necessarily Funny

By Ezra Stead 

The Little Hours, Canada / USA, 2017

Written and Directed by Jeff Baena

Comedy and horror are the two most difficult genres to successfully pull off, because what makes us laugh—just like what scares us—is highly subjective. Even nearly universally acclaimed works in either genre will inevitably have their detractors, as some [backwards-thinking idiots] might not think last year’s The VVitch is scary, while other [no-fun jerks] might not find Anchorman funny, for example. I myself have been informed by numerous people that they find the sketch show Portlandia “hilarious,” though, having personally witnessed the entire first season, I don’t see how this can possibly be true.

Based on the reactions of the admittedly small crowd with me at a recent screening of The Little Hours, this is apparently a pretty funny movie, though I honestly felt like most of the laughter I heard was somewhat forced, as if the other moviegoers were just going through the expected motions when they could tell a joke had just been attempted onscreen, flat as it might have fallen. Maybe it was the only way they could feel as if they’d gotten their money’s worth; I don’t know. I never laughed once, and it pains me to say that because there are a number of gifted comedic talents involved. 

The closest I came to genuine mirth was the second of two scenes featuring Portlandia’s own Fred Armisen, and by then it was far too little, too late. His first appearance onscreen was met with immediate laughter by many of my not-so-fellow moviegoers, even before he had spoken a line of dialogue, which is one of many reasons I suspect their laughter was forced.

Armisen’s cameo is just a last-ditch effort to inject a little life into a movie that was already dead when the opening credits rolled. Adopting the style and font of a prestige period-drama about the Middle Ages, the opening titles appear over a series of shots of a nun played by Aubrey Plaza leading a donkey through the countryside. When she meets with fellow nun Kate Micucci, their contemporary American parlance and liberal use of modern curse words is juxtaposed with the stuffy art-house vibe in a way that is jarring, but unfortunately not, ya know… funny.

This juxtaposition of profane modern dialogue with the production design and self-seriousness of a period-drama accounts for roughly half of The Little Hours’ supposed humor. A particularly predictable and sweaty example of this is an overlong scene in which James Franco’s much less charismatic brother Dave gives a self-consciously bawdy confession to a priest played by John C. Reilly (who is always great, but never has the disparity between his talents and the quality of the material for which he is employing them been more vast). Writer-director Jeff Baena seems to think graphic sexual descriptions in a confessional setting are just the height of comedy—right up there with nuns saying the F-word—when, in fact, both are actually down there somewhere around “rapping grannies” on the spectrum of humor.

The other half of this dismal slog’s would-be chuckles come from various characters hiding awkwardly, or failing in their attempts to do so, which is tiresome from its first instance and becomes nigh unbearable before the mercifully brief 90-mnute running time has expired. At a certain point near the middle, I actually began to wonder if—despite the casting choices, marketing, and everything I’d been led to expect—maybe this movie wasn’t even meant to be a comedy. However, if that were the case, it would still lack the necessary components to build a good movie of any other genre.

Suffice to say, if you find Portlandia funny, you’ll probably like this, too… and I can’t relate to your sense of humor at all.

Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’ Ezra is also a screenwriter, actor, filmmaker, rapper, and occasional stand-up comic who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in New York City, where he is working on his first novel.

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