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Alison Brie stars in a sex romp that’s more Wet Hot American Summer than Monty Python

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The first divisive comedy of Sundance 2017

The Little Hours

The Little Hours certainly looks like a spiritual sequel to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. A drunk priest, a gang of frisky nuns, and a pair of trash-talking soldiers keep busy in a 14th century Italian convent, doing drugs, sipping the sacramental wine, and having sex in the dirt. Quyen Tran’s lovely cinematography intentionally calls to mind the softcore porn farces and raunchy comedies of the 1970s. But that’s where the similarities stop. The Little Hours isn’t a series of absurdist sketches. There are no goofy accents, funny phrases, or lethal forest critters. It’s formless and conversational, borrowing largely from Wet Hot American Summer and the collected works of comedy troupe Stella.

Which is to say, it’s shaggy, awkward, and very unlikely to please everybody out of the gate — the Sundance audience couldn’t decide whether it wanted to laugh or groan through the film’s 90-minute runtime. But even after one viewing, The Little Hours feels like a cult movie in utero.

What’s the genre?

Classic bedroom farce.

What’s it about?

Based loosely on Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th century collection of novellas, The Decameron, The Little Hours sets in motion three stories, gradually colliding the discrete dramas into a comedic pileup. There are the three nuns (Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Garfunkel and Oates’ Kate Micucci) having something of a spring awakening; a priest (John C. Reilly) and mother superior (Molly Shannon) struggling to keep order; and a servant (Dave Franco), hiding from a lord (Nick Offerman) after sleeping with his wife.

It’s a classic sex comedy, with secret identities, rapidly changing partnerships, and ultimately, everybody sleeping with everybody.

Okay, what’s it really about?

The Little Hours is a movie about the banalities of modern conversation. If you’ve watched Stella shorts, you’re familiar: long, loose scenes of exaggerated dialogue about nothing, the actors hamming up the tritest niceties, and conversational filler.

Like the 1980s setting of Wet Hot American Summer, the 14th century backdrop emphasizes the modern quirks of how we talk and behave. The first big laugh of the film is Aubrey Plaza telling a farmer to fuck off, but the best goofs are subtler. In one scene, Franco and Reilly get trashed and gab like longtime bar buddies. A serendipitous nun slumber party is interrupted when two of the young women break into song, just like high school musical theater kids — except they’re singing classic choral music.

But is it good?

Yes, but it’s divisive. The movie plays with a lot of bro-comedy tropes, replacing Seth Rogen and Jason Segel with Plaza and Micucci. The film culminates with an extended sequence involving lots of female nudity, which it plays for laughs. It’s easy to picture this schtick killing with an out-of-shape male comic, but the Sundance audience was stunned and silent.

I suspect the film’s creators are okay with that. The film moves at its own pace, shifting tone from violent gags to dry office workplace banter to unapologetically sentimental beats. Writer-director Jeff Baena has squeezed heart into this film, particularly with a surprisingly sincere, potent ending. Beneath all the bodily fluids and sex jokes, Baena and his actors show a deep fascination with the way we communicate our love, romantically and platonically — especially when the going gets tough. (And the going gets quite tough; the emotional and physical horror of 14th-century life is a great and stomach-churning running gag.)

This may be The Greasy Strangler or Swiss Army Man of Sundance 2016, a comedy that divides the festival audience, but finds a healthy fandom in wide release.

What should it be rated?

The film doesn’t currently have a rating, but I would recommend an R for blood-smeared nudity, drug usage, copious swear words, and unrepentant sacrilegious slapstick. Also you see Dave Franco’s tushie.

How can I actually watch it?

The film currently doesn’t have a release date. It feels like a summer comedy, so hopefully folks won’t have to wait to long to see Aubrey Plaza pelt a man with radishes.