Written and Directed by Jeff Baena and based on The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, The Little Hours is sure to shock the faint of heart. However, is there more to the movie than its crass humor?
Set in the middle ages, the film centers on a convent where the young nuns are, shall we say, a little more liberal than most other nuns. These nuns swear, drink, and have sex on the regular. So, they are essentially just normal women. There is Alessandra (Alison Brie), whose wealthy father, Ilario (Paul Reiser), donates a lot of money each year to the convent, giving his daughter favored status. Alessandra hopes to marry and leave the convent, but her father is stretched a little thin an unable to come up with a dowry, so she stares out the window a lot, lost in depression. Then there’s Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), the rebel of the convent, who cavorts with her friend, Marta (Jemima Kirke), and disappears at night. Finally, Ginerva (Kate Micucci) plays tagalong to Fernanda and is always at the ready to report (read: tattle) to Sister Marea (Molly Shannon). Meanwhile, in a neighboring castle, Massetto (Dave Franco), has run afoul of his master, Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman), by sleeping with the lord’s wife, Francesca (Lauren Weedman). Massetto flees and runs into the drunken Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly), who oversees the convent. Massetto helps Tommasso get back home and the priest agrees to shelter him as long as he pretends to be deaf mute—in order to avoid the nuns—and help out with the manual labor that needs to be taken care of at the convent. It doesn’t take long for the film to become an out and out sex farce.
Yes, The Little Hours will definitely shock those unprepared for the crass nature of these nuns, but for those who are all right with this type of humor—and blasphemy, I guess—the film is absolutely hilarious. However, the film isn’t just crass, it’s a deft commentary on religion and a satire of how ridiculous life was in the middle ages. However, as nuts as the movie gets, it ends on a subtly sweet note, the message being that love is more important than the arcane rules of religion. I only had a couple of issues with the film on the whole. The story does drag just a bit in the middle of the movie, which is where the laughs are fewest. Also, I felt the film wrapped up a little too neatly, which is par for the course with films of this nature, but the different characters’ stories don’t tie together seamlessly enough to ignore just how easily everything works out. I will say, though, that I really enjoyed how the film satirizes the world in which it exists. The Little Hours does a much better job of being a sly satire than some other period comedies have done recently, (see: A Million Ways to Die in the West).
The cast does a great job here, which is to be expected from an ensemble of such talented comedians. Brie, Plaza, and Micucci have great chemistry and play well off of each other. I won’t ruin anything, but they all have their moments to shine here. Reilly is great as always as the dimwit and Shannon brings her considerable talents to the proceedings as well. The two of them make a great duo. Franco is also very funny and has the thankless job of having to put up with all these antics while pretending to be deaf and mute. Nick Offerman’s screen time is brief, but he makes the most of it as does Reiser. Also, Fred Armisen puts in a hilarious appearance as the visiting bishop who must get to the bottom of all of this.
Overall, if you’re not easily offended by crass language and sex and you don’t mind some nuns who like those two things, you’ll probably enjoy The Little Hours. I found it to be funny throughout and more thoughtful than people may give it credit for.