I feel like there’s a bit of a new thing going on with combining old world situations with modern comedic sensibilities. There’s Another Period, set in the early 20th century with exaggerated takes on juxtaposing the problematic nature of that time with the contemporary comedy of today. And there’s also the recently cancelled Making History, which showed exaggeratedly awful versions of Revolutionary War figures. There’s inherently something funny about people talking in modern styles but in a different time.
That said, it’s a tough line to walk, as it can easily be hacky.
The Little Hours comes from indie writer/director Jeff Baena, and is based, crazily enough, on a 14th century novella called “The Decameron” by Giovanni Boccaccio. The story inspiring this movie is liberally inspired. The film takes place in a convent where we focus on three nuns. There’s Alessandra (Alison Brie), who is desperate to be married but whose father (Paul Reiser) is unwilling to help her out. She’s the “nice one.”
There’s Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and obviously she plays the mean one, who runs around with her toadie Genevra (Kate Micucci), who is the awkward, weird one. After their continual verbal and physical abuse (done with very contemporary profanity) of a handyman, he quits, leaving the priest in charge, Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly), in a bind. He leaves with business to trade, leaving behind Sister Marea (Molly Shannon) running the place.
In the meantime, in Lord something or other’s (Nick Offerman) castle, his wife has been sleeping with young servant Massetto (Dave Franco). After Masseto gets caught, he runs away, but after helping out Father Tommasso in need, they come up with a plan. Masseto will act as a handyman but pretend to be deaf-mute to minimize problems and abuse from the ladies.
Already the movie is odd but it gets crazier, with the various nuns getting intrigued in having their way with Masseto differently. Nice girl Alessandra just wants to know what it’s like to kiss a man and etc, nutty Genevra is attracted to him but is subsuming it under a layer of religious etc, and crazy mean Fernanda literally holds a knife to his throat while making out with him. As to be expected, it gets much weirder and more dramatic as it goes.
The movie isn’t funny in the way it really wants to be, but it’s solidly entertaining throughout. These are all very talented comedic actors, and some of them are good dramatic actors too. John C. Reilly is always great, and Alison Brie is just talented in general. Aubrey Plaza may have a “type” but nobody does it as good as her these days.
It’s interesting how the movie just mucks with your expectations and the usual archetypes to use the typical style of exaggerated anachronistic language to make old world situations more accessible yet also very engaging. The movie gets legitimately weirder as it goes, but not overly so, meaning it never breaks the world it creates.
I liked the look the movie more than a lot of indie films, much of it taking place in bright, light outdoor environments instead of the classic muted indie indoor sadness. In a weird way, the movie fails because it’s more of the “What the?” than just funny. But I actually quite liked it. All that said, this is not a normal period piece. It’s an offbeat, profane and mildly sexual comedy. So not for most people.
The LIttle Hours has a run time of 1 hour 30 minutes and is rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content and language.