The Little Hours (2017)

  • Time: 90 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Romance
  • Director: Jeff Baena
  • Cast: Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci

Storyline:

In the Middle Ages, a young servant fleeing from his master takes refuge at a convent full of emotionally unstable nuns. Introduced as a deaf mute man, he must fight to hold his cover as the nuns try to resist temptation.

3 reviews

  • (RATING: ☆☆ out of 5 )

    GRADE: D+

    THIS FILM IS NOT RECOMMENDED.

    IN BRIEF: A ribald farce whose biggest sin is its unfunny screenplay.

    SYNOPSIS: Lustful nuns run rampant in this sex comedy set in the Middle Ages.

    RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 30 mins.

    JIM’S REVIEW: Bless me father, for we have sinned…big time. In the independent comedy, The Little Hours, little time is spent on subtleties. Shock value is frequent, both in language and in actions, as we meet some nuns who are sexually deviants in the highest order. (Needless to say, many Catholic groups are protesting this film’s sacrilegious content.)

    Loosely based on The Decameron, Jeff Baena’s subversive film takes us behind the walls of a 13th century convent and squarely in the midst of a trio of lustful sisters, Alessandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and Ginerva (Kate Micucci) who are “beguiled” by a new handyman, Massetto (Dave Franco). He is posing as a deaf mute and in hiding from Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman), who is after him for bedded his wife (Lauren Weedman). The convent and temporary sanctuary is run (or mismanaged) by Sister Marea (Molly Shannon) and Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) and it is coming undone from all of these farcical complications.

    One might recommend this film to the most liberally-minded of individuals, but even that is questionable as Mr. Baena squanders his chances by playing up the sexual antics while playing down the real farce. The non-stop profanity and sexual situations could easily offend the faint-hearted or more conservatively-based moviegoers just within the first ten minutes of the movie itself. But if you are one of the ribald loving few, who likes their raunchy hijinks with a satirical sting, this is your kinda movie. For me, the satire was lost.

    The title makes no sense, but then neither does the movie. The film wants to be outrageous and edgy but it never goes far enough, mostly due to a scattershot screenplay that seems more improvised than written. Characters are walking clichés and the plot remains a series of unfulfilled opportunities and comic possibilities.

    The Little Hours more often provides groans with a few laughs in-between, mostly due to its nimble cast of players who know their way around a good joke or two (although finding a good joke in this movie is indeed a spiritual quest. But the film cannot sustain its own comic energy and some of the set pieces seem like routine SNL skits rather than well written satire.

    Only Ms. Plaza, Ms. Micucci, Mr. Reilly, and Ms. Weedman delivering a few chuckles. Fred Armisen also makes a quick appearance as a visiting bishop and his droll humor in one short scene does registers. Sadly, the talented cast is wasted.

    Granted, the director has a small budget, but Mr. Baena has an even smaller vision. As the screenwriter, he rarely builds any comic conflict to the absurd degree it needs to be remotely funny. He also unwisely allows his actors to speak in modern day jargon which becomes labored and their pratfalls are non-existent.

    The Little Hours is unfunny and disappointingly dull. It may be the longest hour and a half any moviegoer shall endure…and that is the ultimate sin. The filmmakers should say three Hail Marys and an act of contrition over this dud. Behold the 11th Commandment: Thou shall not see this film!

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  • Why film a ribald Boccaccio romp now? There’s absolutely nothing at all even remotely like it in the multiplexes now. Everything today is Current or Special-Effect Future. So why not a little dabble in the historic. For a change.
    That’s reason one, and a hint at writer-director Jeff Baena’s willingness to take a risk. In the film biz, remember, sequels and rehashes are the sincerest form of flattery — not to mention the safest investment. This film, though, is a unique riff on the medieval not a rip-off.
    It’s also an interesting experiment. Can you set a story in medieval Italy but keep the dialogue contemporary colloquial (e.g., one nun’s “Shut the f— up!”). Spoiler alert: yes, you can and it works with refreshing brio.
    After all, Boccaccio didn’t write in any archaic lingo but in his period’s colloquialism. That’s what Baena does here. The apparent anachronism is true to the original’s currency. Its the quote may suggest, it’s also great fun.
    Which is another reason to revive Boccaccio today : to spring delightfulness upon the dour.
    In one plot line a handsome young servant escapes a sadistic lord’s revenge for sleeping with the lady of the house. In the other he pretends to be a deaf mute so he can secure work in a convent, where the ladies have vented their frustration by tormenting the male gardener. At the end three nuns rescue their man from the lord’s dungeon and return him to his manifold functions at the convent.
    The fired priest and the mother superior resume their enriched love as well. Amor vincit omnia. Love (secular, that is, really) conquers all. Especially the cold-hearted prigs.
    That bawdy folk-tale works as a corrective to the stolid religiosity of the Dark Ages. One fruit of the Renaissance was to recover humanity and the values of earthly existence, responsibility and pleasure from the repressive throttle of the medieval church.
    The archbishop here represents the period’s religious orthodoxy. So in his own service does the presiding priest. But the latter is distinguished by his humanity, his instinct to forgive, and his capacity to love more fully than in the ethereal abstract.
    And that is what makes this medieval joke so bitingly current. Reviving a Renaissance ribaldry suggests we have yet again the need to fight off the Dark Ages. The monster is back so we need to revive its opponent. This hearty embrace of love and individual liberty implies today’s need to deflate an unsympathetic, repressive, non-compassionate religiosity. Of the latter, examples in the Trump presidency abound. This film summons Renaissance humanism to fight that monster again.

  • If you ever wondered what would happen if Black Narcissus combined with Ken Russell’s The Devils would be like as a comedy, then wonder no more for here is writer-director Jeff Baena’s The Little Hours to sate your curiosity. An irreverent take on one of the stories that comprise Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, the comedy takes its one-note nuns-gone-wild premise and plays it for all it’s worth.

    The year is 1347, the place is a medieval convent in Garfagnana, and the nuns with the dirty habits are Sisters Alessandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and Ginevra (Kate Micucci). Alessandra appears the most angelic of the three, whiling away her days doing embroidery, gazing out at the mountains, and hoping that her father (Paul Reiser) can finally sort out her dowry so she can hightail it out of there. Unfortunately, her father’s riches are not what they used to be, what with giving to the convent and all. Maybe he could send less money to the convent? she suggests, but he dismisses that option. After all, that would reflect so poorly on their family.

    Meanwhile, Ginevra spends her days tattling on the other nuns to Sister Marea (Molly Shannon) and wondering where Fernanda goes to at night and why she keeps wearing her winter habit. Fernanda gets her kicks cursing at one of the gardeners for having the nerve to say “Good morning” to her. It’s clear that the young women are repressed and their hormones are raged when Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) hires deaf-mute Massetto (Dave Franco). Except Massetto is neither deaf nor mute, he’s a servant Father Tommasso has saved from Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman, hilariously dry as always), who is seeking vengeance on Massetto for sleeping with his wife (the delightfully bored and sarcastic Lauren Weedman). Naturally, the sisters don’t know this, not that they’d care since all they want to do is lust on the increasingly bewildered Massetto, who finds it more and more difficult to keep up his ruse.

    Other than the general setting, Baena makes it abundantly clear that verisimilitude is not a priority. Actors speak in modern-day accents and inflections and their body language remains faithful to the contemporary era. Whilst this contributes to the general raunchiness and raucousness, it also serves as a reminder that things weren’t all that different in the past, no matter how many centuries ago it was. Bawdiness and sleaze aren’t exclusive to this era of reality television and social media chatter.

    Not that Baena is attempting to craft a satirical comedy; his main focus is on generating laughs and he certainly succeeds with the help of his first-rate cast. Franco might be the best he’s ever been, Shannon and Reilly are sweet and charming, and Brie, Plaza and Miccuci continue to prove why they are three of the best comic actresses working today.

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