The Little Hours (2017)
Written by Jeff Baena
Directed by Jeff Baena
Produced by Elizabeth Destro and Aubrey Plaza
1 hr 30 min, rated R
This year, Aubrey Plaza surprised many viewers with her ridiculously good performance as Lenny on Legion. She received rave reviews for being one of the best parts of the strange and beautiful FX series. Just when you think she couldn’t surprise you anymore, she does with The Little Hours (based on a novella from The Decameron). In this, she plays Fernanda, a brash and unhinged young nun living in a convent on the Italian countryside along with two other young nuns named Alessandra (played by Alison Brie) and Genevra (played by Kate Micucci).
The film is written and directed by Jeff Baena. At the Los Angeles Film Festival, Baena explained that when he read The Decameron, he knew he’d have to adapt it into a film. While the language is decidedly modern, everything else from the clothing to the set design is period appropriate. The reasoning for this being that Baena wanted to show how the issues these young women have haven’t changed too much over time. This film is about the sexual liberation of three women who’ve been cast aside by their families. It’s nice to see the portrayal of what life was like after they were told “Get thee to a nunnery.”
Rounding out the cast is Dave Franco (Alison Brie’s husband and James’ brother) as Massetto, a servant to a righteous ruler Lord Bruno (played by Plaza’s former Parks and Recreation co-star Nick Offerman). Soon, he’s embroiled in a doomed affair with the ruler’s wife. Fearing for his life, he seeks refuge at the convent where Alessandra, Fernanda and Genevra reside. The priest that takes him in (Father Tommasso) is played sympathetically and hilariously by John C. Reilly. The head mistress of the convent is Sister Marea, played by an under-used Molly Shannon.
Without giving too much away, when Massetto arrives at the convent, Father Tommasso offers him work and the nuns take an interest in him. Baena goes for shock value while at the same time parodying the time the story is set in by revealing hypocrisies and societal obligations 14th century people experienced then and continue to experience today in all aspects of life.
Those who are offended easily by religious satire would do well to read up on the history of the Catholic Church. There has always been debauchery in the most pious religious institutions. This film merely explores those contradictions in a satirical way. Looking back, it’s hard to believe such a truthful and searing portrayal of the Catholic Church was permitted to be written in the medieval ages. Sadly, not much has changed since then.
In the film, the patriarchy rules all. Alessandra’s wealthy father (played by Paul Reiser) puts his social standing with the Church above his daughter’s happiness. He says to stay put and embroider things. All she wants is a husband to care for her. When Fernanda isn’t shirking her sisterly duties, she dabbles in the dark arts to escape. In one of the strangest and funniest scenes, the nuns gather to drink, sing and have lesbian experiences. It’s a moment of clarity for Fernanda and Genevra in different ways. Alessandra and Massetto fall in love despite themselves. Massetto is one of the best characters because he gains your sympathy. No matter where he goes, trouble always seems to find him. Franco plays him as a victim of circumstance who’s constantly used and abused by women. Every time one of the nuns comes into the room, you can sense his fear.
I enjoyed The Little Hours, but I know some people won’t due to the pervasive language, graphic nudity and sexual content. But if you don’t normally watch these kinds of movies, you might as well watch this one. Well, you should find every Mel Brooks movie first and watch them all. Then watch this one. Bonus points for casting Fred Armisen as Bishop Bartolomeo. He provides some much needed sanity to the film while also bringing the jokes. Hats off to Aubrey Plaza for knocking it out of the park yet again. Also a big plus was the opening title sequence which had one of the most visually striking fonts I’ve ever seen on the big screen. Or any screen for that matter.
The Little Hours comes out on June 30. Gunpowder & Sky is the distributor.
To keep track of updates on the film, visit https://twitter.com/littlehoursfilm