The Daily Stream: 'The Little Hours' Is A Sweet Slice Of Blasphemy

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The MovieThe Little Hours

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu, Paramount+

The Pitch: Based on one of the tales found in 14th-century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron, The Little Hours follows a trio of young nuns in a convent in a remote part of Italy. Sister Alessandra (Alison Brie) wants a family but is forced to stay at the convent by her father's need to impress the church. Her only two friends in the world are the convent gossip, Sister Ginerva (Kate Micucci) and the sadistic Sister Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza). Life at the convent gets shaken up, however, when a handsome new gardener, Massetto (Dave Franco), is brought into their sheltered world. After sleeping with the wife of a bloodthirsty lord (Nick Offerman), Massetto is on the run and hiding out. He pretends to be deaf-mute at the suggestion of the drunken Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly), the man in charge of the convent that takes him in. The nuns go a little wild with such a good-looking man around, to hilarious results.

Why It's Essential Viewing: Despite being set in an Italian convent in 1347, The Little Hours is the kind of story that feels timeless and universal. The characters' human desires are relatable and, what's more, this flick is funny. Writer and director Jeff Baena made one very important decision: the characters don't speak in accents or with stilted, antiquated dialogue. In fact, quite a bit of the dialogue was improvised by the cast. These are 14th-century nuns who swear at one another like contemporary sorority sisters. The Little Hours brings together some of the best comedians in the industry to riff on one another and run with the ridiculous situations they're placed in, and the result is pure gold.

After Massetto arrives at the convent, all three nuns try to seduce him one by one. It's a ridiculous comedy of errors as the sheltered, inexperienced nuns explore their sexuality. Sister Fernanda's friend Marta (Jemima Kirke) shows up, bringing even more mischief with her. The nuns sneak out some of the communion wine for a night of partying in their room that leads to some mind-opening experimentation for Ginerva, who thinks she might be a lesbian. Each character wants something more from life, and Marta's free spirit inspires them to chase their dreams.

Alessandra initially longs for a husband and a family, but soon sets her sights on Massetto. Brie and Franco are married in real life, and the chemistry between them onscreen is apparent. It's hard not to root for these star-crossed lovers to get together, even as the rest of the convent goes crazy around them. Fernanda's greatest desire is for her own agency, which is why she's so willing to run into the woods and practice witchcraft with Marta. Ginerva just wants to be accepted for who she is, despite the fact that she's a Jewish lesbian pretending to be a Catholic Wife of Christ. Even the elders in the convent want more, as Father Tommasso and the head nun, Mother Marea (Molly Shannon), are having a secret, torrid affair. No one in the convent is happy, because none of them are being true to themselves.

The heretical hilarity happening at the convent is eventually discovered by Bishop Bartolomeo (Fred Armisen), who comes to the church on a regular to check their finances. His complete shock and dismay at everything he finds is gut-bustingly funny. Armisen shames the priest and nuns with aplomb, reading a list of their sins like Tipper Gore reading rap lyrics. By the time he's shown up, however, the characters have realized that they need one another more than they need the church. They say their prescribed "Hail Mary's" and pretend to repent, but it's clear that there's been a real shake-up in their faith.

The Catholic League called The Little Hours "pure trash", but they're completely off-base. The Little Hours is certainly horny and vulgar, but at its core, it's a story of finding happiness through our connections to other people. In the end, the three young nuns are brought closer together by their experiences, and they eventually risk life and limb to save Massetto when he's returned to the vile Lord Bruno. The ending is a celebration of joy as each of the formerly repressed characters finally gets what they've been longing for all along.

The Little Hours feels even more potent now than it did when it was released in 2019. It's easier than ever to sympathize with these characters, trapped in close quarters together in unusual circumstances. All of us can identify with Alessandra at least a little when she complains to Massetto: "It's not fair! You're stuck here with all these bitches, and so am I."

On top of the comedy and heartwarming story, the beautiful vistas of the Italian countryside are like a mini-vacation you can take on your couch. The cinematography by director of photography

Quyen Tran, who also shot the gorgeous time-loop comedy Palm Springs, is absolutely stunning. The Little Hours is as phenomenal to look at as it is funny.

Above all, the laughs are the real selling point. The humor in The Little Hours is somewhat absurdist, relying in part on the juxtaposition of modern dialogue with an antiquated setting. These comedy greats know exactly how to manipulate that to make it funny instead of jarring. Offerman steals every scene he's in, whether he's complaining about the neighbors in a nearby castle or telling Massetto in vulgar detail how he plans to torture him. You can really tell the folks who made this movie had fun making it, and that joy is infectious. The Little Hours is one of my go-to pick-me-up movies for a reason: it's a little slice of blasphemous heaven.