EIFF 2017 – The Little Hours – UK Premiere
Director: Jeff Baena
Cast: Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Kate Micucci, Dave Franco, John C Reilly, Molly Shannon
Run time: 90mins
It is not often the world of raunchy R-Rated comedy and medieval literature collide but that is exactly what he have here as director Jeff Baena, known for Life After Beth, brings us a sexy, foul mouthed indie comedy that is based on the Decameron by Giovanni Baccaccio, albeit very loosely, which was a group of 100 tales, with a framing device, from the 14th Century.
The film also take places in the 14th Century although, and this is one of the films central jokes, the three foul-mouthed, and sexually frustrated nuns the story centers around Alessandra ( Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and Genevra (Kate Micucci) all talk and curse like 21st century valley girls. Plus other characters generally talk like modern day Americans despite the time period and Italian setting. Obviously while this initially funny if this was the movie’s only joke it would run out of steam pretty fast, thankfully there are plenty others in supply.
In fact because of some of the cast members and the trailer people may get the wrong end of the stick with this film. While there is a number of immature laughs this is no stoner/frattish romp like say “Your Highness” or something like that. No, for all it’s in your face raunchiness and swearing this is an altogether smarter, more surreal and by the end kind of sweet film.
In fact there seems to be quite a lot going on here. There is for an example a feel of Monty Python and The Holy Grail at times particularly in scenes set in the castle of Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman) which is ludicrously high walled and reminiscent of the one the French knights have in Holy Grail. It is here one of the main plot strands kicks off as Massetto (Dave Franco) sleeps with Lord Bruno’s wife and has to run for his life. Thankfully he is given shelter by Father Tommaso (John C. Reilly) who takes him in on the proviso he does work at the convent and he pretends to be deaf and mute for his protection and so he can lead a holier life a decision he comes to after a particularly funny confessional scene.
As you can imagine the arrival of a young man at the convent leads to much high jinks. Some of the comedy set-ups here can be a bit obvious but they are funny none the less. Somewhat curious given the film religious set up is the lack of religious satire as it appears Baena is more interested in the frailties of the flesh and the difficulties of trying lead to a moral, virtuous life in the face of temptation than any rants against religion. That said there is the occasional knock against church dogmatism.
Another surprising factor is how beautiful it is to look at as a piece of cinema. The cinematography of the Italian landscape is lush and while the language maybe anachronistic it does still feel like a historical piece due to heavy use of naturalistic lighting, for example night scenes are generally candle-lit. Even more curious, given it’s a comedy, is you definitely feel when watching that movies like Ken Russell’s The Devils as well as 70’s Italian Nunspoilation cinema generally where touchstones
for the filmmakers given the look and feel of many scenes and the occultism that comes later in the film which will certainly thrill a certain type of viewer (this reviewer was certainly impressed).
The main strength of the film though is the cast. Brie, Plaza and Micucci are all hilarious in their roles while Franco manages to hold his own too. Also the relationship between the slightly drunken but entirely lovable Father Tomasso and Sister Marea (Molly Shannon) is both touching and funny. There is also some great supporting turns from the likes of Fred Armisten as the bemused and pompous Bishop Bartolomeo, Nick Offerman as the aforementioned brutal and conspiracy-obsessed Lord Bruno and Jemima Kirke as the racy witch leader Marta.
Verdict: A comedy that might look like a predictable high camp farce but is actually deadpan delight with surprising influences which manages to be funny, witty and oddly poignant.
Words by Scott Murphy