The Little Hours (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Fans of the talent involved have a lot to like and laugh at here, especially Plaza’s deadpan, eye-rolling, anger-infused performance.
This is pretty fearless comedy and everyone is clearly just going all-in on this throwback, lewd, and naughty sex comedy.
I think we can safely say – we don’t have anything like this playing in cinemas right now. The Little Hours is definitely unique and clever.
Catholics will be angry. They are angry, with some groups already asking that Gunpowder & Sky pull their movie from theaters and denouncing the film as “Trash. Pure trash.” That last quote was used in the film’s marketing, by the way.
(Nevermind that the film is based on a literary work from the 14th century…)
There is a brusque, glib tone to the comedy that will make some people find this not all that particularly engaging.
A fair criticism might be that you wonder who this is made for. At times, it can feel like it is amusing a small number of people; namely, those involved.
The Little Hours is a goofy, wacky, hit-and-miss comedy that tells the story of three nuns in 14th century Italy, living and working in a convent. Their worlds are turned upside down when a deaf-mute male servant arrives unexpectedly and life is changed forever on the quiet countryside.
Oh: A couple more things. The nuns are obsessed with sex, they speak in contemporary dialogue, and curse and drink like sailors. Writer/director Jeff Baena has delivered a movie that feels like it would be right at home in the early 1980s, or even during the Euro-exploitation days of the 1970s – one of those medieval sex farces which played for years on late-night cable television. The difference here though is that this particular movie is very well made, even if not all the jokes land with the success all hope for.
Baena’s partner, Aubrey Plaza, stars with Alison Brie and Kate Micucci as three sisters who wile away their days fitfully frustrated and perpetually unsatisfied. After a quiet opening sequence where Plaza’s Fernanda leads a wayward donkey back to the convent, a conversation with Sister Genevra (Micucci) is interrupted by a servant (Paul Weitz). “Don’t f***ing talk to us. What the f*** is wrong with you?” Fernanda shouts.
And we are off to the races.
Suddenly, a who’s who of awesome comedic talent pops into the movie. Molly Shannon‘s Sister Marea runs the convent alongside the wine-swilling Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly). Sister Alessandra (Brie) is desperately hoping her benefactor dad, Ilario (Paul Reiser), can pay an expensive dowry and allow her to leave the nunnery and be married. With money in short supply and a familial obligation to support the convent financially, she appears to be stuck there.
Elsewhere, village life is uprooted when Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman) catches a male servant, Massetto (Dave Franco), servicing his wife Francesca (Lauren Weedman). He vows to kill him, but the servant takes refuge with Tommasso, who agrees he can stay there if he hides out as a deaf-mute. Muscled, smooth, and with a fetching smile and great hair, Massetto soon becomes the target of Sister Fernanda and her questionable childhood friend, Marta (Jemima Kirke), who randomly starts appearing around the convent and refuses to answer Genevra’s question about how she knows Fernanda.
Massetto becomes an (un)willing volunteer for the sexual awakenings of the nuns and Baena sees that there is a curious whimsy to seeing nuns breaking out of their habits and running amok. Generally speaking, there is often great comedy in situations that just don’t naturally fit together properly. Watching Marta and Fernanda concoct a potion that makes them “sexually irresistible”, and seeing Alessandra and the awkward but curious Genevra try and use it to seduce the hot male servant, offers some amusingly awkward moments.
The Little Hours is clearly not for everyone, nor does it try and pretend to be something its not. The humor here is paintbrushed on dry and rough to the touch. The actual mocking of Catholicism is largely spared, although devout Catholics will find this blasphemous for all the obvious reasons. Catholic groups have condemned the film and with its unbridled sex, nudity, and illicit behavior on display, it is easy to see why.
To be honest, devout Catholics aren’t watching one second of this, so let’s move on.
Baena allows his cast ample room for improvisation, reaping occasional moments of lunacy. One scene involving the sisters, that weird interloping Marta, and the Father’s wine, plays like a slumber party sequence from any number of “girl movies” we have seen countless times. The sisters even sing one of their favorite choral pieces together, as if it was the newest hit song on the radio. The film is full of moments where contemporary film aesthetics crash into the stuffiness of a medieval period piece, and for a small production like this, The Little Hours feels impressively authentic in costumes, sets, and production design.
At times, we just want the movie to be funnier and work better. John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon are underutilized, and we could have used more of Offerman and Weedman, whose deadpan delivery is pitch-perfect in her scant screen time. A great start gives away to a movie that spins its wheels for awhile, until a late twist takes place that livens everything up exponentially.
The film finishes strong with the best sequence coming late in the film when Fred Armisen‘s Bishop Bartolomeo arrives to check in on the convent and review the ledgers. What he discovers and his subsequent takedown of all involved is one of the funniest moments from any movie this year.
The Little Hours is going to shock and surprise a fair number of potential viewers and some just will not get this at all. Admittedly, it does take a while to get into the rhythm and cadence of the film but when Armisen finally just unleashes an exasperated retort to a main character, asking, simply, “What the hell are you doing?”, his words serve as a perfect summation to the ribald and raunchy shenanigans we have been witnessing for nearly an hour and a half.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Jemima Kirke, Nick Offerman, Lauren Weedman, Paul Reiser, Adam Pally, Jon Gabrus, Paul Weitz.
Director: Jeff Baena
Written by: Jeff Baena, based on “The Decameron” by Giovanni Bocaccio.
Distributor: Gunpowder & Sky
Release Date: June 30, 2017