Loosely based on one of the tales in Giovanni Boccaccio’s collection of novellas The Decameron, Jeff Baena, most well known for Life After Beth and I Heart Huckabees, juxtaposes medieval sensibilities with modern sexuality and humor. What could have easily been an exercise of brainless obscenity has been fleshed out into a fully-realized ensemble comedy.
The Little Hours is the story of three nuns: Alessandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and Ginerva (Kate Micucci). With little more to do than a few chores around the convent, the nuns have developed a fondness for the profane. This is evident within the first few moments of the film when the abbey repairmen greets Fernanda and Generva, only to be met with an unexpected string of imprecations. Tired of the abusive sisters, the repairman quits, leaving Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) in the difficult position of finding someone new. Luckily for the Father, a handsome and virile servant named Massetto (Dave Franco) is on the run after sleeping with his master’s (Nick Offerman) and is in need of hiding. Massetto is the introduction of temptation into the nunnery, as the sisters’ boredom soon turns into a comedic sexual awakening.
The script for The Little Hours is quick, witty, and full of absurd situations that marry the mundane medieval life with the bluntness of modernity. While the entire cast provides fantastic delivery, no one does this better than Aubrey Plaza. Her character is not much different than the others she has played in past projects; nonetheless, there is something bewitching in her performance. This might be due to her husband, Jeff Baena, knowing how to write lines perfectly for Plaza and play to her impassive strengths.
What could have easily been a 10 minute SNL sketch that bats at low-hanging fruit has been elevated to a fully realized sex farce. While the film does have its faults (particularly Generva’s story arc), Baena and crew do a wonderful job of finding balance between dry wit and surreal humor that is reminiscent of Monty Python.