The Little Hours
2017, R, 90 min. Directed by Jeff Baena. Starring Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Jemima Kirke, Nick Offerman, Lauren Weedman, Paul Reiser.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 7, 2017
Bawdy nuns are usually good for cinematic laughs, and that holds true in Jeff Baena’s The Little Hours, which is loosely based on a story from Boccaccio’s The Decameron. The film is a comic sex romp that feels as though it might have sprung from a Monty Python sketch, although its humor speaks in a tongue less biting and sharp than those Pythonites’. The Little Hours is amusing and ambitious, although it’s awfully one-note and diffuse. Given the huge array of comic talent marshaled to appear in this production, hitting anything less than a bull’s-eye inevitably feels like a missed target.
Although set in the Middle Ages, the characters in The Little Hours speak modern English. Profanity, gossip, and ill will are common traits among the sisters. “What the fuck?” is their most frequently uttered expression. These nuns are more like characters in a salacious Almodóvar farce than a medieval Pasolini tale. Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, and Kate Micucci play bored convent nuns. Molly Shannon is their mother superior and John C. Reilly is the convent’s priest, who has a fondness for the holy wine as well as the mother superior. Dave Franco is the servant Massetto, who flees his master (Offerman) after being discovered sleeping with the nobleman’s wife (Weedman, one of the film’s standout performances). Massetto takes refuge in the convent, where the nuns believe him to be deaf and mute, and take turns defiling him. Jemima Kirke enters the indecorous fray as one of the lesbian witches who frolic in the woods, and Fred Armisen shows up to play a bishop who is shocked, truly shocked, to learn of the sins taking place inside the convent’s walls. Yet, as a whole, the film plays out like a series of titillating scenes rather than a blasphemous charade.
Admittedly, it’s something of a cheap blow to condemn a film for not being funnier than it is. But The Little Hours is a farce that doesn’t really mock anything. It exists as if amusing itself were its only objective. In that, this troupe may have succeeded, but I feel compelled to throw back the film’s favorite phrase: “What the fuck?”