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'The Little Hours' Film Review: Surprisingly measured, this vulgar romp delights in subverting a classic

July 13, 2017Ben MK

What does a quirky indie film like The Little Hours have in common with such big budget studio movies as Wonder Woman and Rough Night? The answer lies with its predominantly female-driven ensemble cast — which includes Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and Kate Micucci — who together help give this comic riff on the 14th-century literary classic "The Decameron" an edgy, subversive quality.

The setting is 1347 Garfagnana, and Sisters Alessandra (Brie), Fernanda (Plaza) and Ginevra (Micucci) are a trio of restless nuns living in a convent run by Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) and Mother Marea (Molly Shannon). Alessandra is eager to be wed, but there are dowry issues; Fernanda enjoys cussing and causing a scene; and Ginevra struggles with repressing her sexual desires. What's more, none of them get along with the groundskeeper (Paul Weitz), who leaves in a huff after the nuns unleash a vicious verbal and physical assault upon him.

Meanwhile, in the not-so-distant land of Lunigiana, a handsome manservant named Masseto (Dave Franco) spends his days serving his master (Nick Offerman) and his nights servicing his master's wife (Lauren Weedman) in bed. When he's inevitably caught and forced to flee for his life, however, a fateful encounter with an inebriated Father Tommasso — whose weakness is his penchant for the sacramental wine — leads him to joining the convent as its new groundskeeper, where he must try to maintain the guise of a deaf mute in order to keep a low profile.

Suffice to say, things don't go as planned. And despite Masseto's best efforts to avoid interacting with the nuns, it doesn't take long for him to arouse not only their suspicions, but also their curiosity. Being the most man-hungry of the bunch, Alessandra ends up being the most smitten, and she doesn't hesitate to ditch her embroidery duties for a chance to roll around in the dirt with him. However, both Fernanda and Ginevra have their own designs on Masseto as well, all of which happen to come to a hilarious head during a visit from Bishop Bartolomeo (Fred Armisen).

Written and directed by Jeff Baena, The Little Hours treats its source material with a surprising degree of straight-faced reverence. Which is to say that the plot remains faithful to the moral of Boccaccio's story, the actors all perform their scenes with deadpan seriousness, and both the production design and the costumes are authentic to the time period. Where the humor stems from, then, is out of the juxtaposition between the historical setting and the dialogue, which has the cast speaking with generic American accents and 100% modern-day phraseology.

The result isn't nearly as laugh-out-loud funny as one might imagine, especially considering the pedigree of the on-screen talent involved. However, that doesn't necessarily reflect negatively on the proceedings. Although The Little Hours has a tendency to play like an uncensored Saturday Night Live skit at times, it never reaches sky-high levels of outright camp. On the contrary, for the foul-mouthed sex comedy that it is, it's surprisingly chaste.

The Little Hours releases July 14th, 2017 from Mongrel Media. The film has an OFRB rating of 14A for coarse language and sexual content. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 30 Mins.

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