The Little Hours

(USA / Canada 2017)

“Eating blood? Do you think I’ve ever written down ‘eating blood’ before? Where am I?”

— Bishop Bartolomeo

From what I remember in my English lit classes, Geoffrey Chaucer called it as he saw it. He took a dim view of piousness and devotion because he knew that neither makes someone a good person. Hold that thought.

Some people take religion very seriously. Others reach such a high level of intellectual refinement or maturity that it puts them beyond crass, juvenile humor. Good for them — I’m not one of those people. I adore a snarky, irreverent story; it’s even better when it involves absurdism or sacrilege and still has something to say. The Little Hours is exactly that: a farce with a point.

Set during the Middle Ages, hapless Fr. Tommasso (John C. Reilly) has the unenviable job of overseeing a convent. Yipee. He finds himself without a gardner when Lurco (Paul Weitz) quits after three hateful young nuns — vain Sr. Alessandra (Alison Brie), nerdy gossipry Sr. Ginerva (Kate Micucci), and belligerent Sr. Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) — physically attack him one too many times.

While on a mission selling embroidery to raise funds for the convent, Fr. Tommasso, lost and drunk, crosses paths with Massetto (Dave Franco), a servant running from his master, obnoxious douchebag Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman). Bruno is out for blood (not to mention balls) after he discovers Massetto has been carrying on with his wife (Lauren Weedman) for some time.

Fr. Tommasso learns of Massetto’s dilemma and makes a proposal: Massetto can work in the garden at the convent, but he must pose as a deaf-mute to avoid stirring the ire of the nuns. Massetto accepts, but things don’t pan out quite as intended. The young nuns are, well, horny. Not long after he arrives at the convent, Massetto is getting it on with both Alessandra and Fernanda. All hell breaks loose when they find out.

Written and directed by Jeff Baena, The Little Hours is loosely based on — or a spoof of — a novella from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, a 14th Century epic. If this sounds highbrow, don’t fret — it’s the only sophisticated thing about this film, which is fine because it is above all else a comedy.

Loaded with f-bombs, sex, and general malice, The Little Hours is an amusing mix of Mean Girls and Monty Python. The cast works well as an ensemble, bringing out and playing off of each other’s goofiness in an endearing way. I see hints of improvisation, which brings even more energy to the whole thing. Although the story peters out toward the end, Baena keeps the momentum going strong for most of it. What could have been a thin joke stretched out too long and too far stays fresh and fun with this vibrant and funny cast.

For all its silliness and flippancy — pretty much all seven deadly sins make an appearance here — Baena raises an interesting point. The Little Hours is very much a comedy about desire, and it get its laughs from the conflict between desire and appearance. Without getting preachy, The Little Hours shows that piousness and devotion don’t douse the flames of desire; sometimes, they fan them. After all, we’re all merely human. I can’t help thinking that Chaucer would approve.

With Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Jon Gabrus, Jemima Kirke, Adam Pally, Paul Reiser

Production: StarStream Media, Bow and Arrow Entertainment, Destro Films, Dublab Media, Productivity Media, Concourse Media, Exhibit Entertainment, Foton Pictures

Distribution: Gunpowder & Sky (USA), Mongrel Media (Canada), GEM Entertainment (International)

90 minutes
Rated R

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B

http://www.thelittlehoursmovie.com

Marie Antoinette

(USA/France 2006)

“This, Madame, is Versailles.”

—Comtesse de Noailles

If her take on Marie Antoinette is any clue, Sofia Coppola loves postpunk ’80s British bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cure, New Order, and New Romantic frontrunners Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow. So do I. This in all likelihood is what drew me to Marie Antoinette: with three Bow Wow Wow songs (two remixed by My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields), big hair, and a real MTV sensibility, its appeal to me is, well, a piece of cake.

All that is only part of the story. What really makes me love Marie Antionette is the sympathetic angle Coppola takes with this infamous character. Based on Antonia Fraser’s biography Marie Antoinette: The Journey, the first half of the movie is about the difficulties Marie (Kirsten Dunst) faces adapting to her new French surroundings and getting her new husband, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman, Coppola’s cousin), to consummate their marriage. She fails, and of course everyone blames her—even her mother (Marianne Faithfull). When she’s had enough, she says “fuck it” and becomes a full on rock star. This is where things get interesting.

Colorful and elaborate, Marie Antionette is not profound. So what? Lance Acord’s music video cinematography is perfect for what Coppola is going for; bordering on sensory overload, this film is busy, clever, and fun to watch. I know better than to take it as a history lesson.

With Judy Davis, Rip Torn, Rose Byrne, Asia Argento, Molly Shannon, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Mary Nighy, Jamie Dornan, Steve Coogan, Tom Hardy

Production: Pricel, Tohokushinsha Film Corporation (TFC), American Zoetrope, Pathé, Commission du Film France, Commission du Film Île-de-France

Distribution: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures

123 minutes
Rated PG-13

(iTunes rental) B-

http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/marieantoinette2006feature/

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

(USA 2015)

American Horror Story: Coven director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s adaptation of the 2012 novel of the same name by Jesse Andrews, who wrote the screenplay. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a simple and underwhelming story, really, with a punchy if morbid title: a self-deprecating goofball teenager named Greg (Thomas Mann) is forced by his mother (Connie Britton) to hang out with prickly classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who is sick with leukemia. Greg’s mother thinks it would be a “nice” thing to do to “make her feel better.”

Rachel is on to Greg, though, and she resents his pity. Nonetheless, the two go through the motions of faking a friendship to get their mothers—Molly Shannon plays Rachel’s mom—off their backs. After Greg introduces his buddy, Earl (R.J. Cyler)—the two of whom make parodies of real films with titles like “Senior Citizen Cane,” “My Dinner with Andre the Giant,” and “Rosemary’s Baby Carrots”—the three develop a friendship. Greg and Earl set out to make a movie for Rachel.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl easily could have gone off the rails and become an insipid little mess, but it doesn’t. It holds together quite well, probably because it’s full of funny (and cringeworthy) moments despite its sad subject matter. Two things make this film exceptional: the acting is superb, and the script nails teenage boy angst with laser precision.

(AMC River East) A-

http://meandearlmovie.com