Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movie Review of The Little Hours: Jeff Baena's Limited Release Comedy with Alison Brie, Dave Franco and Mollie Shannon Has a Wide Range of Humor

By Kelly A. Byrne

Jeff Baena’s The Little Hours came out in select theaters bringing joy and laughter to the self-selecting audiences who love a good 15th century nun sex comedy. After premiering at Sundance, the film was distributed by Gunpowder & Sky to positive reviews in two theaters, followed by a larger roll out. The Little Hours is home to a star-studded cast including Dave Franco, Molly Shannon, Allison Brie, John C. Riley, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza, and Fred Armisen, among others. 

When Masetto (Franco) is caught sleeping with his nobleman’s wife, he must run for his life or else be killed. In his escape, he meets a priest (Riley) and gains shelter and a job as a gardener at the monastery where he must pretend that he is a deaf mute in order to keep the nuns from bothering him. In a twist of expectations, the monastery is the least sanctimonious place of the Middle Ages.

The film undercuts any expectation that nuns in a monastery would be calm and focus on their work in prayer. They are and do anything but. The story is a masterpiece of random plot points dropped in to surprise, their sole purpose to get a quick laugh from the audience. The tone of the film could not be any more ridiculous with a scene of Masetto confessing his egregious acts of sodomy, nuns having a witch ritual, and of course all of them getting drunk on sacramental wine. It is a recipe for hilarious comedy, and has the feel of an #SNL skit that just kept going.

What stood out about this film was the freedom the women had as actors to play their characters with as much flair as they wanted. Often in chick-flick comedies, female comedians make jokes at their own expense to get a laugh from the audience, or else they act foolishly to get a man in the movie to like them. Not so in The Little Hours. Shannon. Brie, Micucci and Plaza are free to be wild, violent, and unapologetically insane from start to finish, which gives these actresses the opportunity to just be funny for the sake of being funny.

The nuns are of course attracted to Masetto, so love and getting a man’s attention is still a major plot point. But all pomp and circumstance are done away with. In an era of courting and wooing, these medieval characters go against every expectation - especially since it is the women who are doing the seducing in the most bizarre ways they can fathom. In addition to comedy, there is tension. When the Bishop arrives, the nuns must hide their behavior, since laying with a man is a mortal sin. It was new and entertaining to see a group of accomplished female comedians have as much fun and freedom with their characters as they wished, and even greater to see them succeed.

Their deadpan style of humor keeps the audience on its toes, never knowing where the next laugh will come from. The Little Hours is a weird and brilliant concept for a 90 minute comedy, and if you have a taste for the unexpected, it will not disappoint.