What I took for a wacky anti-religious comedy actually has its roots in classical literature: The Little Hours (“Hours” is supposed to be pronounced as “Whores,” for reasons which should become clear) is based upon the first story of the third day of Boccaccio’s “Decameron.” Not being classically trained, this was all news to me; the only thing I knew of the “Decameron” was that Pasolini had directed a version in 1971 (it contains nine of the one hundred stories). Of course, I’ve never seen that either, nor any of the other versions. It’s amazing how much of my ignorance a little research can reveal.
Jeff Baena’s film is based in the Middle Ages, as is the original story, and it contains licentious nuns taking advantage of a mute man, but that’s where the faithfulness ends, it seems. The dialogue, mostly improvised by the cast, is contemporary and profane; it is quite shocking to watch two or three nuns verbally assault a gardener for no apparent reason. Boccaccio provides a reason, slim though it may be, but I did not discern it in this resulting film. And instead of the story of how a man turns a situation to his advantage, though it almost kills him, and in the end derives wealth and family from his fateful decision, this film refuses to look ahead that far, staying in the realm of sexual comedy.
With a cast of hot, profane nuns embodied by Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza (who also produced), Kate Micucci and Jemima Kirke (who is not a nun, but teaches them about lesbianism), the film brims with cult potential. Some critics and audiences find the film hilarious, but I did not — to me the funniest things are the silliest, as when a nun or two drops to the ground behind a tall bunch of flowers, believing that it will shield them from sight (and it always does, which is funny). To be sure, things get crazier and crazier until an erotic witch-dance in the woods brings everyone’s bad behavior to light, yet I find the humor amusing rather than laugh-out-loud.
Its cult potential is only reinforced by the performances of John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Nick Offerman and Dave Franco (as the deaf mute who is neither deaf nor dumb). Boccaccio’s tale takes the sexual escapades to their logical climax (forgive the pun) but the film only hints in that direction, opting instead to try to wrap things up in more traditional movie fashion. I give the film credit for trying something different, and going back almost a thousand years for source material. But it should have gone much farther, with even more licentiousness, nudity and silliness, to really make its points. ☆ ☆. 5 August 2017.