I really wanted to love “The Little Hours,” the latest film from “Life After Beth” and “Joshy” director Jeff Baena. He has a sense of humor that directly mirrors mine and when I heard that he was tackling a religious themed comedy based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s classic literary text “The Decameron” as his next project, I was sold. Unfortunately, the film aimlessly wanders around the screen in a cloudy haze of expletives for two hours instead of being something truly special.
The film is full of talented, funny comic actors but they just don’t have great material to work with. We first meet Sister Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), Sister Alessandra (Alison Brie), and Sister Genevra (Kate Micucci) quietly going about their daily routine. When the gardener wishes them a good morning, they turn violent, verbally abusing him with an f-bomb laced tirade, throwing turnips at his face, and spitting at him. A group of nasty, rude and cursing nuns is a funny premise for sure, but this one-note joke gets stretched over the entire course of the film and quickly becomes repetitive (and rapidly loses its humor).
Mother Superior (Molly Shannon) runs the convent with Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly, the true scene stealer in the film). After a chance encounter in the woods, Tommasso crosses paths with runaway servant Massetto (Dave Franco), a man who has been kicked out of his master’s (Nick Offerman) castle for schtupping the lady of the house. Father Tommasso drunkenly laments that he ran out of water and “had to drink the sacramental wine,” and comes up with the grand idea to invite Massetto back to live with and work for him. Once Massetto arrives he grabs the attention of the sexually repressed, bi-curious nuns, and they scheme to seduce the new farmhand by any means necessary.
While it’s not an original idea to take a classic piece of literature and put a modern spin on the story, there are some truly hilarious concepts at play, including several riotous confession scenes that will no doubt be memorable long after you see the movie. Although the film is set in a 14th century Italian convent, the trio of bad nuns speak in modern slang and give in to their uncontrollable carnal desires, habit be damned.
The film is off-color, bawdy, and seems hell-bent with determination to push the buttons of the devout. I’m not a religious person (nor am I a prude) but I did find many of the jokes, at the expense of Catholics in particular, for the most part only mildly humorous. The film wants to be a screwball comedy but it just gets too weird too fast — and it’s not the good kind of weird. There are several orgy scenes (including what are basically attempted rapes), a bizarre subplot about a coven of witches (who take to nude dancing around a woodland fire), and a laundry list of curse words that would make a sailor blush.
The entire project feels as if it’s raunchy solely for the sake of being raunchy, and I wanted so much more.
This film was screened and reviewed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.