In the beginning of this movie, two Sisters chat in modern voices about a donkey that wandered away from their convent and needed to be retrieved again this morning. The convent’s handyman walks by and gazes a bit to longly at the Sisters. They then proceed to drop F-bombs on him until he finally walks away bewildered. As the credits rolled, I wondered to myself, how would I describe this movie in my review?
Historical sex comedies are few and far between, anachronistic ones even more so. I would say that Mel Brooks’ History of the World: Part 1 would be a prime antecedent, and probably also Year One (from 2009, starting Jack Black and Michael Cera). The movie also reminds me of something that would have played on Cinemax or Showtime after Dark back in the nineties, albeit with better acting, funnier jokes and more believable sex scenes. (Idle hands and cable TV truely are the Devil’s playthings.)
The credits state that this movie is based on Boccaccio’s The Decameron, a book I have never read, so I’ll take director and screenwriter Jeff Baena’s word for that. A quick Google on The Decameron states that it’s a collection of bawdy tales set in 14th Century Italy, and the set design certainly appears accurate. The actors all appear to be dressed appropriately for the period as well. All of the dialog is delivered in modern, 21st Century vernacular, which, while a bit distracting, does yield the movie’s biggest laughs.
After the verbal thrashing of the opening scene, we meet the players the main setting for the story. Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation) and Ginevra (Kate Micucci, The Big Bang Theory, Garfunkel and Oates) apparently are long-term residents of the convent, run by Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) and Sister Maria (Molly Shannon). Fernanda and Ginevera are the “Mean Sisters” of the convent, and are extremely curious about newcomer Alessandra. Alessandra’s father (Paul Reiser) has jettisoned her to a convent because “there’s a lot of money going out and not a lot coming in.” It’s cheaper for Alessandra to stay at the convent than pay a dowry, so her father tells her that even though she wants to get married, “maybe that’s not your calling.” Later, when the mean Sisters and Alessandra meet up with the beleaguered handyman again, she takes her anger over her situation out on the handyman and pelts him with f-bombs and subgrade turnips.
When Father Tommasso heads to town to sell the embroidery the Sisters have created, we are introduced to the second setting for the story. In a castle, we are introduced to Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman) and his wife Francesca at dinner. Lord Bruno may be a man of means, but he is dull and uninteresting. Francesca has not-so-secretly been shagging servant Massetto (Dave Franco) under her husband’s oblivious nose. Finally, Lord Bruno figures out what is going on and asks the two most inept guards of all time to retrieve Masseto for punishment, which they fail at miserably.
Masseto meets a shit-faced drunk Father Tomasso on the road out of town. Later that evening over drinks, Tomasso askes Masseto to stay on as the convent’s handyman. Masseto agrees, only to find that he must pretend to be a deaf mute, so as not to rile the Sister’s . Massetto being hunky Dave Franco, it doesn’t take long for loins to be stirred. Before the dams break, Masseto hilariously does his best to ward off the advances of the Sisters until he caves to their charms.
Until about half way through, the movie is primarily a ribald verbal comedy, with Massetto’s confession to Father Tommasso as a highlight. Then the movie delivers on its sexy premise with two intense sex scenes that made me forgot I was watching a comedy. This is an R-rated movie, by the way.
As the three Sisters, Aubrey Plaza, Kate Micucci and Allison Brie mostly play to their strengths as comedic actresses. Plaza is the sharp-tongued seducer, Micucci is the neurotic dormant and Brie is the goofy romantic. Their interplay is very funny, and the movie’s ensemble cast is used to its advantage.
Micucci provides some risque physical comedy when she overhears some romantic advice from a distance. She clearly doesn’t hear everything said very well and winds up dancing naked with a coven of witches.
Fans of celebrity couples will be interested in seeing Franco and Brie share medieval coupling time in this movie. Trivia alert: they were married in 2017, around the same time this movie came out.
Nick Offerman’s performance achieves the seemingly impossible, being terrifyingly boring and boringly terrifying at the same time. His monologue to Masseto on how he’s going to keep him alive but slowly torture him to death is probably how most managers sound to their office worker drones.
Fred Armisen shows up in the third act as Bishop Bartolome. He plays his role as a regional manager stopping by to review the books and is shocked, shocked to see what a slipshod operation Father Tomasso and Sister Maria are running (“Have you seen these numbers?”) The tribunal scene where the Bishop confronts each of the Sisters with their sins (“Eating blood. Do you think I’ve ever written down ‘eating blood’ before? Where am I?”) is hilarious.
Ultimately, Massetto has to choose between staying at Lord Bruno’s castle and being tortured to death, or run off with the three Sisters and be shagged to death. (the escape plan the Sisters devise features the best use of a turtle and a candle that I can think of.) Ultimately, he chooses death by pleasure, which the movie shows is better than a death of old age, preceded only by piety and misery. The movie ends on a happy note with Father Tomasso and Sister Maria joining each other outside the convent and professing their love for each other.
The Little Hours has a definitive cast, which is noteworthy for a movie of its ilk. Fans of any of the actors I’ve mentioned above should definitely check it out, since they all have a great moment or two in this movie. The movie is funny and sexy, a breezy ninety minute distraction. Recommended.