By Jim Slotek
The result isn’t a laugh-a-minute jape, but there is an admirable commitment to the premise – however mysterious the motivation was for making this movie in the first place.
Beautifully shot in northwest Tuscany, The Little Hours is the story of three very bad nuns: Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza, Community’s Alison Brie and comedian Kate Micucci (who was Raj’s phobic girlfriend in The Big Bang Theory), taken from a sex-obssessed story from Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th century work The Decameron.
There is about the same level of verisimilitude you’d find in a Mel Brooks historical comedy, with everyone talking in their own particular American accent, and acting pretty much the way we’d expect them to be off-camera.
Plaza, she of the famously-angry deadpan, is the angry nun Fernanda, who tends to wield knives at the drop of a habit (and turns out to have an even darker side). Brie is the sunshiny princess who finds work at the convent beneath her and accepts, with sad equanimity, her parents’ insistence that she be cloistered.
And Micucci? She’s a snitch who wants to fit in. But really she’s there to show her made-for-comedy face.
In a story that plays out almost like a spoof of The Beguiled, the three (and mother superior Molly Shannon) are joined by Massetto (Dave Franco) a servant on the run from a cuckolded master (Nick Offerman). Needing a place to stay, Massetto is convinced by the convent’s drunken priest Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) to pose as a deaf-mute for propriety’s sake as he takes on the job of convent handyman.
Nonetheless, pleasing to the eye, Tomasso’s very presence disrupts the uneasy truce between the three nuns, and soon, there’s all kinds of fornicative transgressions going on, incuding what amounts to a boozy, sexually-experimental nun pajama-party.
In The Little Hours' one flat-out hilarious scene, Massetto confesses the details of his previous adultery, and Father Tomasso must decide right then and there in the confessional which act constitutes sodomy (pretty much all of them, as it turns out).
In a movie that always seems to always be trying to figure out the right tone for its premise, the one comic actor who really nails it is Fred Armisen as the visiting Bishop Bartolomeo, who is there to pick up the pieces when various deeds come home to roost in an orgy of, well, orgies, and even intimations of dark arts. Hitting a note-perfect flabbergasted tone of “ARE YOU SERIOUS?” he pulls every sinner down to earth and gives the movie a last-act that at least pulls all its comic pieces together.
In the end, The Little Hours is a curiosity with a terrific comic cast, playing out undoubtedly the single oddest project any of them have tackled in years.
The Little Hours: Written and directed by Jeff Baena. Starring Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and Dave Franco. Opens July 14 in Toronto (TIFF Bell Lightbox) and Vancouver.
Jim Slotek is a former Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special (the NHL Awards). Prior to the Sun, he worked at the Ottawa Citizen as an entertainment reporter.