Though nuns are often portrayed as beacons of purity, they’re anything but in The Little Hours, Jeff Baena’s film set at a convent in medieval Italy. These sisters unleash torrents of profanity, violently lash out at men, chug sacramental wine, and explore their sexuality with wild abandon.
Subverting the expected behavior of nuns isn’t exactly an original concept—just look at The Sound of Music, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Sister Act. From the outside, nuns’ lives look woefully rigid; they must take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. It’s always fun to watch repression backfire, but these movies also humanize and add depth to women who’re often reduced to their wimples.
It doesn’t break the mold, but The Little Hours ably tests the boundaries of habit humor, thanks to its star-studded cast. The hopeless romantic Alessandra (Alison Brie) was sent to the convent by her father. Aubrey Plaza draws on the dark mischief of Parks and Recreation’s April Ludgate as the passive-aggressive Fernanda, while Genevra (Kate Micucci) is the convent’s avid rules-stickler. Dave Franco plays Massetto, the hired hand who’s pretending to be deaf and mute, John C. Reilly is Father Tommasso, who enjoys the blood of Christ a little too much, and Molly Shannon plays the criminally underdeveloped head nun, Sister Marea.
Alessandra, Fernanda, and Genevra frequently spy on each other; they eagerly watch for sinfulness, perhaps to distract from their own impure thoughts. The film’s best moments come when we get to spy on them—wringing out the laundry, grooming the donkey, stealing turnips from the garden and later going to confession over the theft. The Little Hours finds comedy in mundanity; its jokes, thankfully, make up for its unoriginality.