Jeff Baena’s previous film, 2016’s Joshy, was one of the better and more realistic comedies of the year. This reviewer’s hopes were understandably high for this follow-up, with Baena back in the same genre, although skewing in the complete opposite direction, and some of the best female comedic talents today.
The film is inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron”, a text that tells tales of Italians secluding themselves from The Black Death. Laced in among this tome, you get the story of a collection of nuns in a convent being thrown into disarray when a young and handsome outsider enters their lives.
Nuns Alessandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) and Ginevra (Kate Micucci) are studying in an idyllic and quiet convent. Following a trip to the market where he got drunk, Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) is saved by a young servant boy named Massetto (Dave Franco), who is on the run for laying with his master’s wife. Tommasso offers him shelter at the convent in exchange for work, but he must pretend he is a deaf-mute in order not to startle the working nuns. Soon after, Massetto begins to awaken feelings within the convent, leading the girls to turn to adultery, substance abuse, homosexuality and dangerous rituals.
When the film hits, it hits hard. Micucci is probably the star of the three leads as she is given the most to do, from her amusing hiding places to her eventual attempts at courting Massetto. There are a number of laugh-out-loud and enjoyable moments (a certain ritual comes to mind), but the issue is that they are few and far between.
The script feels paper thin, which may very well explain the fact that these fantastic comedy actresses were not allowed to really dive into their regular comedic voices. You are never really allowed to discover what the purpose and the goals of the girls are (aside from Alessandra), even to the point where you discover one of their plan’s with Masetto, it’s not really divulged why it was happening – it was just happening. It’s basically like a long improv sketch, but instead of “yes, and–“, it seems only our actresses had their parts laid out while the supporting cast were allowed to riff.
Once the “raunchy-nun” jokes wash off, there’s not a whole lot to this film that keeps it going. And the three lead actresses, all great in their own right, are essentially just playing personas we’ve seen them tackle many times over. Adapting a 14th-century text with modern(ish) sensibilities is perhaps a key element of the overarching joke, but then you have the likes of Reilly, Nick Offerman and Molly Shannon trying with their performances and comedic timing while feeling somewhat out-of-place; it all doesn’t gel together as well as it should.
It isn’t all terrible. As I mentioned, there are some great performances by the supporting characters, with Reilly’s charm and goofy brilliance being at the forefront. Alas, while it does a decent job in reminding of much better films (the opening credits, for example, feel very “Monty Python-esk”), it fails to deliver. The Little Hours is a predominantly dull film with the occasional whiff of brilliance found here and there.
THE REEL SCORE: 4/10