(USA / Canada 2017)
“Eating blood? Do you think I’ve ever written down ‘eating blood’ before? Where am I?”
— Bishop Bartolomeo
From what I remember in my English lit classes, Geoffrey Chaucer called it as he saw it. He took a dim view of piousness and devotion because he knew that neither makes someone a good person. Hold that thought.
Some people take religion very seriously. Others reach such a high level of intellectual refinement or maturity that it puts them beyond crass, juvenile humor. Good for them — I’m not one of those people. I adore a snarky, irreverent story; it’s even better when it involves absurdism or sacrilege and still has something to say. The Little Hours is exactly that: a farce with a point.
Set during the Middle Ages, hapless Fr. Tommasso (John C. Reilly) has the unenviable job of overseeing a convent. Yipee. He finds himself without a gardner when Lurco (Paul Weitz) quits after three hateful young nuns — vain Sr. Alessandra (Alison Brie), nerdy gossipry Sr. Ginerva (Kate Micucci), and belligerent Sr. Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) — physically attack him one too many times.
While on a mission selling embroidery to raise funds for the convent, Fr. Tommasso, lost and drunk, crosses paths with Massetto (Dave Franco), a servant running from his master, obnoxious douchebag Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman). Bruno is out for blood (not to mention balls) after he discovers Massetto has been carrying on with his wife (Lauren Weedman) for some time.
Fr. Tommasso learns of Massetto’s dilemma and makes a proposal: Massetto can work in the garden at the convent, but he must pose as a deaf-mute to avoid stirring the ire of the nuns. Massetto accepts, but things don’t pan out quite as intended. The young nuns are, well, horny. Not long after he arrives at the convent, Massetto is getting it on with both Alessandra and Fernanda. All hell breaks loose when they find out.
Written and directed by Jeff Baena, The Little Hours is loosely based on — or a spoof of — a novella from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, a 14th Century epic. If this sounds highbrow, don’t fret — it’s the only sophisticated thing about this film, which is fine because it is above all else a comedy.
Loaded with f-bombs, sex, and general malice, The Little Hours is an amusing mix of Mean Girls and Monty Python. The cast works well as an ensemble, bringing out and playing off of each other’s goofiness in an endearing way. I see hints of improvisation, which brings even more energy to the whole thing. Although the story peters out toward the end, Baena keeps the momentum going strong for most of it. What could have been a thin joke stretched out too long and too far stays fresh and fun with this vibrant and funny cast.
For all its silliness and flippancy — pretty much all seven deadly sins make an appearance here — Baena raises an interesting point. The Little Hours is very much a comedy about desire, and it get its laughs from the conflict between desire and appearance. Without getting preachy, The Little Hours shows that piousness and devotion don’t douse the flames of desire; sometimes, they fan them. After all, we’re all merely human. I can’t help thinking that Chaucer would approve.
With Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Jon Gabrus, Jemima Kirke, Adam Pally, Paul Reiser
Production: StarStream Media, Bow and Arrow Entertainment, Destro Films, Dublab Media, Productivity Media, Concourse Media, Exhibit Entertainment, Foton Pictures
Distribution: Gunpowder & Sky (USA), Mongrel Media (Canada), GEM Entertainment (International)
(Gene Siskel Film Center) B