You don’t necessarily have to be from a Catholic background to find The Little Hours to be hilarious but it probably helps. You also don’t have to be an expert in satirical Italian literature from the Medieval era but, again, it probably helps. Of course, what helps the most is to have a good sense of humor.
Technically, The Little Hours is based on The Decameron, though not even that famously bawdy book featured dialogue like, “Don’t fucking talk to us!” and “Stop fucking looking at us!” Both of those lines are delivered by Aubrey Plaza, who plays a nun in a medieval convent. The fact that Plaza is playing a nun tells you a lot about the humor in The Little Hours. The sets and the costumes are meticulously accurate. It’s easy to imagine that, if you got your hands on a time machine and traveled back to the Fourteenth Century, what you would see would look a lot like The Little Hours. But the dialogue and the attitudes are all straight from the 21st century.
The Little Hours tells the story of three nuns and the people who get in their way. Aubrey Plaza plays Sister Fernanda, the sarcastic nun who is willing to beat up anyone who looks at her for too long. Ginerva (Kate Micucci) is the repressed nun who can’t wait to get everyone else in trouble. Alessandra (Alison Brie) is the nun who is only a nun because her father (Paul Reiser) is making her.
When you’re bored and stuck in a convent, you find interesting ways to keep yourself amused. For instance, gossip is always a fun way to pass the time. Or you can get drunk on communion wine. If you get really bored, you can always join the local coven and dance around a fire. Or you can lust after the new handyman, a handsome deaf-mute named Massetto (Dave Franco). Of course, Massetto isn’t really a deaf-mute. He’s just pretending because he doesn’t want to be executed for having sex with his former master’s wife. Life was never easy in medieval Italy.
The film may be based on The Decameron but all of the dialogue was improved. Whenever I hear that anything’s been improvised, I always know that the end result is either going to be hilarious or it’s simply going to be unbearable. Fortunately, the cast of The Little Hours is full of comedic pros. They all play off of each other well. Each line of dialogue seems like a challenge being delivered by both the character and the performer. Behind every joke is a subtext of “Try to top this.” Supporting roles are played by everyone from Molly Shannon to Nick Offerman to John C. Reilly. Fred Armisen plays the Bishop who has the unenviable task of trying to keep straight everything that’s happened and his display of exasperation is absolutely brilliant.
As you can probably guess, I enjoyed The Little Hours. It’s probably not a film for everyone. As I said, it helps to not only have a Catholic background but to also have a sense of humor about it. But, for those in the right mood, it’s a hilarious film.