The Little Hours (2017)
Written & Directed by Jeff Baena
A trio of nuns in a medieval convent gets up to a series of increasingly scandalous and obscene acts. Sister Alessandra (Alison Brie), is the daughter of a struggling merchant who is keeping his daughter in the church until he can marry her off. In the meantime, his charitable contributions are leaving his finances struggling and no dowry coming anytime soon. Sister Ginvera (Kate Micucci) is very sheltered and obnoxious, both wanting to tattle to the head of the convent, Sister Marea (Molly Shannon) while participating in the revelries of her rebellious fellow nuns. Finally, there is Sister Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) who is always sneaking out into the woods at night only to return at the crack of dawn the following morning. Tossed into this mix is Masseto (Dave Franco), a former servant to a noble on the run after sleeping with the noble’s wife. He befriends Father Tommaso (John C. Reilly), and the priest gives him a job as the gardener at the convent.
Director Jeff Baena has managed to produce a curious film. The humor is stylistically on par with modern works from the Apatow collective of comedy. However, the look and feel of the movie is very much out of the arthouse vein. The film is based on a handful of stories from Boccaccio’s The Decameron but reworked, so that is not so much as a straight adaptation as it is an homage to those types of tales. I would argue that the first hour of the film works very well, much to my own surprise. Seeing the trailers, I felt like this would be a one-note picture, working off the gimmick of “Hey, aren’t these vulgar nuns funny?” Each nun has a very distinct personality, none of them are developed incredibly deep, but nothing feels lazy.
I definitely felt a touch of Monty Python with the anachronistic humor and production design. There is also a sense of experimentation here, meaning this is not a highly polished film, but an attempt at trying something different than the previously mentioned Apatow ensemble improv comedies. There is not a single actor who is phoning it in, and every joke is played to the hilt, though some do wear thin. I almost think the entire film would work better extended into a short television series, allowing some breathing room between acts and less of a need to stretch certain jokes out. The three leading actresses never get annoying so spending more time with them would not have been a punishment.
The cast beyond the featured three is also remarkably good, but not surprising as they are veterans of comedy. John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Nick Offerman. These are players that you know will deliver something funny and entertaining no matter what role you throw them in. Baena smartly features them in brief scenes that aren’t drawn out too long and plays to each of their strengths. Shannon’s earnestness is at its peak here and provides her character with a wonderfully deserved happy ending.