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The Little Hours
★★★☆☆
First run Theater cinema

Jeff Baena’s The Little Hours is a raunchy comedy based on one of the stories in 14th-century Italian collection The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. It tells of the misadventures of a group of malcontented nuns (Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Kate Micucci) who live in a medieval convent run by a befuddled priest (John C. Reilly) and a well-meaning mother superior (Molly Shannon). 

Shooting in a loose, improvisatory, low-budget style and relying on the comic personas of his cast (which also includes Nick Offerman, Jemima Kirke, and Fred Armisen) you might think this would be one of those tedious, half-baked comedies that fall apart after about forty minutes.  Happily this is not the case. Baena clearly knows his source material well, and he possesses a real flare for exploring what makes the Middle Ages fascinating and relevant, not just arcane. Rather than attempting to recreate the period with authentic language, dialects and behavior, this film places modern characters with irreverent contemporary sensibilities into a period setting. This anachronistic choice is not done simply for the purpose of hipster irony—if so, the one-joke movie would barely sustain the length of a sketch-comedy segment.  Rather it gives the viewer a hilarious and relatable sense of the people you might actually meet in a medieval convent.

A long tradition exists of satire that injects contemporary perspectives, beliefs, and behaviors into ancient history and classical literature as a way of getting at the truth of what folks of earlier eras were like—their backgrounds, life struggles, and daily existence. However American comedies rarely excel at this. Perhaps the lack of a classical education puts Americans satirists at a disadvantage compared to their British and European contemporaries and forbearers. Most Americans possess neither the desire to rebel against stuffy old texts, nor the understanding that these classical writings might not be so dull after all. Baena doesn’t just use his setting and source material as a surface to play on; he pulls audiences inside and allows us to explore possibilities along with his actors. 

While it The Little Hours doesn’t appropriate history or literature with the intelligence or number of big laughs found in the Monty Python films, it deserves a place at the same table—perhaps seated next to the movies of Mel Brooks.

Twitter Capsule:

A laugh out loud funny and surprisingly astute medieval sex farce with contemporary sensibilities; terrific cast used to great effect 

Directed by Jeff Baena
Produced by Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Destro

Written by Jeff Baena
Based on the novellas The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

With: Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Jemima Kirke, Nick Offerman, Lauren Weedman, Paul Reiser, Adam Pally, Paul Weitz, and Jon Gabrus

Cinematography: Quyen Tran
Editing: Ryan Brown
Music: Dan Romer

Runtime: 90 min
Release Date: 30 June 2017
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
Color