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The Little Hours

The Little Hours

When The Little Hours opened at Sundance, Catholic League president Bill Donohue flatly stated, "It is Trash. Pure Trash."  It is telling that Writer-Director Jeff Baena and Producer-Star Aubrey Plaza used the quote to highlight the movie's marketing campaign on their movie poster.  Such is the anarchic but good-natured irreverence emblematic in this little satire, loosely based on several stories from Giovanni Boccaccio's 14th-century work, The Decameron.

It is 1349, and in a remote convent in Tuscany we meet three nuns unlike any Catholic sisters you ever met: Allesandra (Alison Brie) is in the convent until her daddy can acquire the dowry that will fetch her a good husband, Ginerva (Kate Micucci) is a slightly deranged suck-up, and Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) is the mean and snarky alpha-nun.  They spice up the daily tedium of embroidery and laundry duty by bullying the handyman, spying on each other, engaging in sexual fantasies, and other, more secretive, pastimes.  All of this occurs under the benign and clueless noses of Mother Superior Sister Marea (Molly Shannon) and the Father Tommasso (John C. O'Reilly).

When the handyman finally has had enough and quits, Tommasso lucks into a replacement: Massetto (Dave Franco), a servant on the run from the paranoid Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman), who has discovered Massetto in flagrante delicto with his wife Francesca (marvelously sarcastic Lauren Weedman).  To protect the new handyman from the three sisters' abuse, Father Tommasso comes up with the dubious idea of having Massetto pretend to be a deaf mute.  The priest's plan, of course, goes awry when the sisters set eyes on the handsome young Massetto and realize the opportunity his inability to speak presents to their blasphemous machinations.  Things kick into high gear when Fernanda's friend, the wild Marta (Jemima Kirke) visits the convent, and peaks with the surprise arrival of Bishop Bartolomeo (Fred Armisen).

For a limited budget indie, The Little Hours has big budget production values.  Dan Romer's score establishes both period and mood while Quyen Tran's cinematography elicits a sunny, earthy pastoral beauty that belies the ongoing shenanigans.  Speaking of contradictions, the humor draws largely from an anachronistic pairing of characters using contemporary American dialect with a story set during the Middle Ages.  Adding to the fun, Baena has gathered some of today's most gifted comics and given them a script that is little more than a general outline then urged them to improvise, thus allowing each actor's idiosyncratic personality to emerge full-blown.  The end result is something approaching the subversive wit of Monty Python with nearly the same zany antics of the Mel Brooks gang.  To say The Little Hours falls short of those classic ensembles is not a put-down; quite the opposite, it is a compliment to its aspirations that it set the bar so high and then went for it.  We hope this group reunites for further efforts in the future.
8.0 out of 10 on the Entertainment Scale
5.5 out of 10 on an Awards Scale (Cinematography a long shot possibility)


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