Sister Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), a nun of 14th century Italy, leads an escaped donkey back to a convent of humble, conservative nuns. Upon arrival she greets Sister Genevra (Kate Micucci), and the two exchange pleasantries in the early morning mist. A labourer walks past and politely greets them.
There is nothing that could prepare you for the onslaught of verbal abuse and profane insults that the nuns deliver to the passing handyman. But this sort of incongruent, unexpected humour is what director Jeff Baena delivers so well in this farcical and wildly irreverent take on The Decameron – a collection of novellas from 14th century Italy.
Our leading man is Massetto (Dave Franco), the charming servant of a powerful lord who gets tangled up in a messy love triangle. After a lucky escape he is forced to take refuge in a convent with Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly), an alcoholic priest, and become the new convent handyman. To endear himself to the nuns and avoid drawing their vitriol, he must pretend to be deaf and mute – a pretence that works almost too well, as they each start to fall in love with him.
Everyone in The Little Hours is flawed in some way, and this is exactly what Baena strives to demonstrate throughout the film. Despite the calling of the nuns to live moral lives, they each face their own temptations. Each actress sells her part, setting themselves apart from each other and becoming memorable in their own ways.
The screenplay has all the energy and quirkiness of a Monty Python film with its low-budget aesthetic, historical setting, and offbeat humour. Its visual humour in particular bears a strong resemblance to its British predecessors’ works. At its most manic we are caught up in drugged-up nudist witchcraft; in its more subtle moments, clever framing and well-paced editing are enough to draw some laughs.
The Little Hours holds an irreverent premise, but unless you are a nun living in 14th century Italy there is little to be deeply offended about. It makes no attempt at hiding it influences, and yet it remains a bizarrely charming independent film.
Have you seen the film? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!