THE LITTLE HOURS
Gunpowder & Sky
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Jeff Baena
Written by: Jeff Baena
Cast: Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Mucucci, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 6/8/17
Opens: June 30, 2017
Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret. You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but she always comes back. Repress people’s natural inclinations long enough, and you’re setting up an explosion. This is illustrated in “The Decameron,” Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th Century masterpiece filled with vivid stories, the basis for the adaptation of one or two of the tales.
In “The Little Hours,” Jeff Baena bases his comedy on the first tale of the third day in Boccaccio’s “The Decameron.” Boccaccio knew in his own Fourteenth Century that sex sells, and similarly, Geoffrey Chaucer over in England at about the same time included considerable risqué parts in his “Canterbury Tales,” considered the greatest book of the Middle Ages. We know as well that the Bible is studded with sexual references, both in its stories and in its prohibitions (which, alas, includes the no-no about having sex with donkeys—Exodus 22:19).
These concepts become the background for writer-director Jeff Baena, whose 2016 movie “Joshy” deals with the ways the title character’s friends cheer him up after a broken engagement by having a raucous weekend filled with drugs, debauchery, and hot tubs. He is thus in his métier with “The Little Hours.” However he makes an error of judgment early on in the story by exposing the nuns as vulgar, using the f-word freely and taking their frustrations out on a gardener whom they accuse of ogling them, beating him to a pulp. Wouldn’t the better move be to show the sisters as innocent virgins who become horny when a handsome replacement for the gardener is placed in their midst?
The central characters in this film located in a convent near a European castle in 1347. Sister Alessandra (Alison Brie), Sister Ginevra (Kate Micucci) and Sister Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) are members of the convent for various reasons, though only one, Alessandra, is biding her time until her father (Paul Reiser) scrapes up some dowry money to allow her to get married. Enter handsome Masseto (Dave Franco), who has served as a servant in the castle for Lord Bruno and who enjoys escapades with the lord’s wife (Lauren Weedman). When he’s caught by the lord, he runs for the convent, where Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) sets him up to replace the gardener. While Masseto plays deaf and mute, the sisters—all virgins—prove that, as previously stated, you can drive nature out with a pitchfork but she comes back.
For his part Father Tommasso, who hears confessions and metes out predictable punishments (say 10 Hail Marys, etc.), is himself involved with Sister Marea (Molly Shannon), the Mother Superior. It’s all a repetitive merry-go-roundelay of affairs, even a witches’ dance that find the nuns frolicking naked. One of the nuns is exposed as a Jew, to round out the physical comedy with some attempts at verbal wit.
“The Little Hours,” the title’s coming from fixed daytime hours of prayer, psalms, hymns and readings, is lacking in surprises, skimpy on wit, and anarchic in physical displays.
Rated R. 90 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
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