The Little Hours


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Alison Brie Kate Micucci and Aubrey Plaza in Little Hours - young servant fleeing from his master takes refuge at a dysfunctional convent in medieval Tuscany.
"The piecemeal nature of Giovanni Boccaccio’s source material only adds to the sketch show feel, with as many moments missing the mark as hitting it." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

At the outset of Jeff Baena's The Little Hours - which had its UK premiere at EIFF and will play in this month's Fantasia Film Festival - there is a donkey and a nun, and not longer after, a fierce outbreak of expletives. It's clear we're not in Kansas any more, but where are we? It turns out the question is not where, but when - the Middle Ages, in a (very) loose adaptation of the Decameron, with all those ribald curses brought bang up to date.

With a story about sex-starved nuns (Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and Kate Micucci), a slave (Dave Franco) on the run after adultery who pretends to be a deaf mute so he can work at the Convent and a priest (John C Reilly) with an unhealthy penchant for the communion wine, it's a situation that's ripe for absurdist humour. Monty Python would have had a field day.

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The Little Hours, however, proves to 'little' for the task. Where big absurdity is called for, Baena lacks the courage of his convictions, relying instead on the humour of incongruity - we are supposed to laugh at the situations simply because the language being used is so 'out of place' in the 14th Century time period. This approach might work for male students after a skinful of lager but it's unlikely to generate wide appeal.

The piecemeal nature of Giovanni Boccaccio’s source material only adds to the sketch show feel, with as many moments missing the mark as hitting it. While the film may be aiming for belly laughs, it is more likely to generate little more than the occasional beatific smile, unless you find swearing the last word in comedy. This is almost certainly because the cast improvised the dialogue, which always has a tendency to create a perception problem - in terms of how funny the actors and crew think they're being versus how funny they actually are to a viewer. It also tends to lead to over-indulgence, which in the case of The Little Hours results in a mid-movie slump. Since the characters are thinly drawn, the film becomes over-reliant on incident and, as Baena is unwilling to fully commit to a 'nunsploitation' romp, there isn't enough of that either.

The arrival of Fred Armisen, as a disdainful bishop, improves the momentum a little but, in the end, the story doesn't so much reach a conclusion as simply run out of steam and steaminess. Tightly controlled improvisation can sometimes work, but solid comedy scripting needs chapter and verse.

Reviewed on: 14 Jul 2017
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When a runaway slave takes shelter at a convent, sexual shenanigans ensue.

Director: Jeff Baena

Writer: Jeff Baena

Starring: Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Jemima Kirke, Nick Offerman, Jon Gabrus, Adam Pally, Lauren Weedman, Paul Weitz, Paul Reiser

Year: 2017

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US, Italy

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