When I typically think of medieval literature, I think of stale material revolving around staid characters in a bland pastoral setting. Considering the recent film adaptation of Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th century classic The Decameron, perhaps I haven’t actually read much of medieval literature to have had such preconceived notions.
The Little Hours has certainly put me straight about that. I’ve certainly never seen such a depraved and ill-mannered group of nuns. They drink, they fight, they curse, and worse. It’s almost like watching a gaggle of sailors on shore leave, except in Italy, and nearly 700 years ago. I might as well have been watching a contemporary soap opera for all of the uncharacteristic goings-on.
Set in Florence, the story focuses on three nuns: Alessandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and Ginevra (Kate Micucci). They have their chores and their confessions and their lives of poverty, but they also act like miscreants a lot of the time. Near the start of the movie, they yell at and physically threaten the gardener of the monastery. It wasn’t because he was a jerk or anything. It was simply because he looked at them.
This drives the man away in fear for his life. Father Tommasso (the always endearing John C. Reilly) thankfully acquires the services of Massetto (Dave Franco) who himself was forced to flee a nearby estate after being caught in bed with the wife of his master, played by the ever affable and deadpan Nick Offerman. So already there are a couple of commandments that have been broken, with several still to go.
It’s probably at this point that the more ardent Christians discontinue reading this article. Certainly attending the film’s screening has already been crossed off your to-do lists anyway.
What happens throughout the rest of the film can only be described as a faithful retelling of Boccaccio’s salacious and ‘of the people’ tales. The Little Hours apparently wasn’t given that title because it refers to periods of time. ‘Hours’ is actually meant to be pronounced as if it rhymes with ‘fours’. They are young, brash, and lewd. If they were my daughters, I would have failed as a parent for not having had some serious discussions with them to understand them better.
That being said, there is a lot of comedic value here, if you can look past all that heresy. Much of the casting is perfect and the actors here play their parts with unreserved glee. The pedigree of the dramatis personae here is telling, with familiar faces from Saturday Night Live, Judd Apatow’s filmography and other such comedic powerhouses as Reilly and Offerman.
Writer/director Jeff Baena (co-scribe of the wacky and smart I Heart Huckabees) clearly was aiming for an elbow to the ribs of religion while introducing a classic piece of literature to his 25-and-under target audience. Mission accomplished there. It’s not so much a college screwball comedy as it is akin to watching a medieval European version of The Crucible. It tries to offer sex to entice the audiences before serving up some satire while they’re in their seats. I think that it has enough of some things to satisfy everyone and not enough of others, practically condemning this movie to disappoint all.
I’ll admit that I laughed several times. Maybe it was just watching a drunk monk and a screaming nun, the incongruity of the actions with the uprightness of the characters that tickled my funny bone. Maybe it was just the summer heat that got to me, forgive me. At least I feel repentant.
The Little Hours
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Nick Offerman, Jemima Kirke, and Paul Reiser
Written and directed by Jeff Baena
Rated: 14A for coarse language, sexual content, and nudity
Runtime: 89 minutes
Playing Friday through Wednesday at Metro Cinema
8712 109 St. in Edmonton. More details can be found at www.metrocinema.org.