“What the fuck are you looking at?!”
Who knew Medieval nuns dropped the F-bomb so much? In Jeff Baena’s fitfully funny, highly vulgar The Little Hours, a convent becomes less a place a prayer and more a den of sin, with mostly amusing results. In part adapted from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, The Little Hours is a gorgeously photographed farce that can’t quite hold water, even though it features a cast populated with some of the funniest people working right now.
The story primarily follows a trio of nuns — the lovelorn Alessandra (Alison Brie), whose garners special treatment because her father (Paul Reiser) donates money to the convent; the angry, mysterious Fernanda, who more than a few secrets; and the innocent but somewhat bratty Genevra (Kate Micucci). At the film’s start, the three nuns chastise and assault the convent’s handyman to the point that he up and quits, thus putting the Monsignor Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) in a bit of a bind.
As luck, or perhaps divine providence, would have it, Father Tommasso crosses paths with the handsome Massetto (Dave Franco). Massetto has just fled his home after being caught in a torrid love affair with a noblewoman (Lauren Weedman, who steals every scene she’s in, however brief). The noblewoman’s husband (Nick Offerman) wants Massetto dead, so Father Tommasso comes up with a plan: Massetto will pretend to be a deaf mute and serve as the new handyman for the convent. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before the nuns are sending lusty glances Massetto’s way.
Most of this is amusing, and the actors are clearly eating up their parts — Plaza in particular seems to be relishing every “fuck” she gets to fling at the other characters. But The Little Hours feels padded and directionless, more a series of skits than a full-fledged film. Often it feels like we’re watching a string of Drunk History episodes edited together for feature length.
Still, there’s much to like here. The three lead actresses play perfectly off each other, and Franco garners many laughs with his over-the-top deaf mute shtick, and Fred Armisen is wonderful as a bishop who delivers one memorable monologue. Cinematographer Quyen Tran shoots the Tuscany locations in dappled sunlight and fills the frame with lush greens, making this one of the best looking comedies in recent memory. Yet the overall feeling one gets from The Little Hours is that of being stuck on vacation with a very talented improv group on a workshop getaway — it’s funny at first, but after a while you just want to go home.