A Specific Set Of Skills

The good, the bad and the Aubrey: a Plaza double-bill

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Little Hours
Opens Aug. 31–Sept. 3

RPL Film Theatre

Ingrid Goes West
Opens Sept. 1

Rainbow Cinema

Aubrey Plaza is a taste I never acquired. Her go-to screen persona —abrasive, unreasonably hostile — can be put to good use (Parks and Recreation, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), but for the most part it’s grating.

My low tolerance of Plaza is directly linked to the quality of the material she’s involved with (bad). It was a struggle to get through Bad Grandpa and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (Plaza and Adam Levine are a match made in the seventh circle of hell). The Little Hours isn’t as bad, mainly because even mangled beyond recognition, Boccaccio’s Decameron is a literary powerhouse.

It still sucks, though.

Theoretically set in the 14th century (not that there’s any interest in being period-accurate), The Little Hours revolves around a convent filled with nuns who don’t want to be there. There’s Alessandra (Alison Brie), stuck at the nunnery until her father can put together a dowry; Fernanda (Plaza), a secretive nun with countless chips on her shoulder; and Ginerva (Kate Micucci), a sister coming to terms with her sexuality. The arrival of a deaf-mute caretaker (Dave Franco) is the nun’s catalyst to find emotional fulfillment. Medieval hijinks ensue.

The Little Hours is, at its core, a Saturday Night Live sketch stretched into an hour and a half. There’s one joke: the anachronistic contrast between women with modern attitudes and a belief system designed to constrain them. There are some laughs (mostly from Nick Offerman as a self-satisfied feudal lord), but for a comedy that’s supposed to be transgressive, it has little of Boccaccio’s intended pathos.

Go West

Unlike The Little Hours, Ingrid Goes West has a script that supports Plaza’s skills. It uses a contemporary issue — social media — as a metaphor for the user’s personal flaws.

It also borrows freely from The Talented Mr. Ripley, stopping just short of carnage.

Just released from a mental hospital, Ingrid (Plaza) must deal with the emptiness in her life after her mother’s death. Craving some kind of human connection, she becomes fixated on an Instagram celebrity, Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), who peddles her lifestyle as a product.

Convinced she’s found a new BFF following an innocent reply, Ingrid leaves for California, where she insinuates herself into Taylor’s life … but her sociopathic tendencies soon flare up.

Ingrid Goes West does a bang-up job showing how social media is a gift to stalkers. It also walks the fine line between comedy and thriller, while demolishing the utter emptiness of the Instagram phenomenon (without being preachy!).

There you have it: an opportunity to watch back-to-back Aubrey Plaza features and decide if she’s here to stay or should go away.

I’m still leaning towards the latter. ❧