When a nun portrayed by Aubrey Plaza unleashes a torrent of F-bombs at a gardener in the opening scene of "The Little Hours," it's clear something's amiss.
That, it turns out, is just the first glimpse of convent life gone awry in this raunchy tale of lust and buffoonery.
Catholic sisters Alessandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Plaza) and Ginevra (Kate Micucci) are Italian nuns in this sex farce, set in 1347. Jeff Baena, who wrote and directed the film, adapted the story from a couple of satiric tales in Giovanni Boccaccio's "The Decameron."
(Movie note: Some of the actors are real-life couples. Brie and Franco were married in March, and Plaza and Baena live together.)
The locations and score are appropriate for the time, but the film has other ideas.
The young nuns sure aren't pious, and they have no intention of being chaste – especially when a second, handsome gardener Masseto (Dave Franco) enters the grounds. The jokes pile on as the 14th century costume piece is layered with 21st-century deadpan humor – and even a bit of witchcraft and a love drug of some sort for good measure.
Alessandra is waiting for her father to work out a dowry with a suitor so she can be sprung from her tedious monastic routine of embroidering. Fernanda and Ginevra take out their anger at doing mindless chores by venting their anger at the first gardener. When he flees, good fortune awaits in the form of Massetto.
Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) takes Massetto on after he helps the priest out of a drunken mishap. The young man needs somewhere to go after the servant's fling with the bored lady of the house (Lauren Weedman) has him on the run from Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman), a jealous husband with bad intent.
Fearing a reprise of the nuns' mistreatment of the previous laborer, Tommasso tells Massetto to pretend to be deaf and mute to minimize interaction. Massetto uses mime to deceive the nuns eager for their first sexual encounter with a man, but when they see him with his shirt undone, his communication skills become of little consequence.
Massetto appears relieved to be ignored at first, and later vacillates between being flummoxed and ready and willing to be at their service.
As the mayhem starts getting out of control, a visiting bishop (Fred Armisen) makes an appearance, taking the laughs up another notch.
And laughs there are. Plaza's inferno temper and rebelliousness, Brie's newfound libido and sense of well-being and Micucci's altogether confusion are amusing to watch underneath their pure white habits. So are Armisen's rollicking turn as a man of the cloth and Reilly's well-intentioned tipsy priest.
There's an improvisational feel to the film, as if some of the laughs are being made up on the spot. A witchcraft scene pushes the boundaries beyond credulity, but the film's craziness comes together at the end with a sweet ending that ties things together with a big bow.
"The Little Hours" is a fun romp that aims low and mostly stays there, right where it belongs.
"The Little Hours"
3 stars (out of 4)
Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dave Franco, John C. Reilly and Kate Micucci star in a comedy about the mayhem at a convent after a handsome gardener appears. 90 minutes. Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content and language.