Boccaccio’s seminal text The Decameron gets a contemporary facelift by writer-director Jeff Baena, who previously brought us inventive zombie-comedy, Life After Beth. Baena reunites with much of Beth’s cast including Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon for The Little Hours, a dark comedy that pays homage to the nunsploitation genre.
The Little Hours follows servant Massetto (Dave Franco) who flees from his master after cheating with the lady of the manor. He is offered a place to stay and work by heavy-drinking Father Tommasso (Reilly), accepting a job at Tommasso’s convent filled with emotionally unstable, aggressive nuns (Plaza, Alison Brie), on the condition he avoids trouble by pretending to be a deaf mute.
It’s admirable how long Baena’s feature keeps a straight-face for with period soundtracked title scenes and the picturesque Tuscan locations. You would be forgiven for this would be a straight-laced medieval convent picture. However, in an amusing twist, the first line of dialogue proves to us that this will be a darkly comic romp with the cast delivering their lines in full American accent and with contemporary swagger. We’re thrust into the home of these immoral nuns early on through a number of humorously aggressive scenes aimed at the convent’s original gardener with Plaza, Brie and Kate Micucci’s Sisters of God being full-mouthed aggressors. The concept of angry, liberated nuns is a fun one – especially so in the hands of these three comic stars.
As The Little Hours progresses it dips into sex farce with Franco’s handsome handyman being the focus of many of the loose-lipped nuns attentions. Much of the film is composed of sneaky, mistaken identity, and ‘I know something you don’t know’ humour. Baena also satisfies purists of the nunsploitation subgenre in a number of lesbian-nun scenes which are packed with a high camp comic edge. Whilst not all of the jokes land with ease, the cast approach them with such gusto and charm that it is very easy to be swept into the impeccably crafted period world of The Little Hours. Much praise should Quyen Tran’s sultry scenery and Susie Mancini’s transformative production design.
Whilst much of the over-the-top, camp humour of The Little Hours makes this an undeniably funny picture, there is also dark undertones lurking in Baena’s film. All the expected attributes of the medieval period piece make appearances from black magic to torture – some approached with more of a straight-face than others. This creates a unique blend of high comic nunsploitation sex farce, with dark medieval undertones.
Plaza brings a wide eyed manic energy to the fold, whilst Brie’s neurotic giggling Alessandra amuses and impresses. Reilly and Shannon bring some of their expected charisma and buoyant on-screen chemistry, whilst Franco brings a sex appeal and well attuned comic delivery to The Little Hours. Praise should also go to smaller roles from Nick Offerman (in a faux-serious comic turn) and Fred Armisen’s unlikeliest of Catholic Bishops.
The Little Hours is a highly amusing, offbeat comedy that presents a unique and original concept with an over-the-top sense of fun and energy.