It’s a who’s who of comedic talent in The Little Hours, which puts a modern spin on The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio’s collection of 14th century tales that is said to have inspired Chaucer and Shakespeare, amongst other celebrated writers.
Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and Kate Micucci star as Fernanda, Alessandra and Genevra, respectively, three bawdy nuns living in a convent somewhere in the remote region of Garfagnana in Italy. They lead simple lives, carrying out their daily tasks, each of them struggling under the strict conditions imposed on them. Fernanda is cursive and makes up stories to escape at night, Alessandra is desperate to marry, and Genevra is confused about her sexuality.
This is all brought to a head with the arrival of Masetto (Dave Franco), a young man who’s on the run, hired by the father (John C. Reilly) who presides over the convent to be a handyman. It’s without a doubt a funny setup, and there’s mild laughs to be had at seeing nuns curse, drink, fornicate and dance around in the woods during a particularly funny scene involving witches and a supremely hilarious Micucci on a strong batch of love potion. But it’s flimsy.
Jeff Baena’s script cracks at the seams, and the laughs, despite the A-list cast complied, don’t come as thick and fast as you’d expect. With a cast that includes Plaza, Reilly and Molly Shannon as the mother figure of the convent who’s relationship with Reilly’s Father Tommasso is far more intimate than it should be, expectations are undoubtedly high. But aside from some stand-out scenes and a couple of unquestionably side-splitting one liners, what comes is underwhelming. It’s especially a shame for Franco, who’s naturally good, used here as nothing more than a piece of meat for the three nuns to devour in every which way.
It’s funny in ways, yes, but quickly tires when there’s nothing of substance left when the laughs filter out. However, where the script leaves a lot to be desired, Baena makes beautiful use of the Tuscany scenery where the film was shot. There’s some truly wonderful cinematography, which is unusual for a comedy film. It just all falls a bit flat, and likely won’t linger in the memory for long. The Little Hours could have done so much more with its cast and quirky premise, but instead only skims a pass by being passably silly.
Jamie Neish | @JamieNeish