‘The Lit­tle Hours’

Randy sis­ters run amok in me­dieval con­vent in this failed nun­sploita­tion par­ody

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Katie Walsh Walsh is a Tri­bune News Ser­vice film critic.

In Jeff Baena’s “The Lit­tle Hours,” a cheeky adap­ta­tion of Gio­vanni Boc­cac­cio’s 14th cen­tury col­lec­tion of novel­las, “The De­cameron,” the film­maker makes an at­tempt at “nun­sploita­tion,” that 1970s sub-genre of re­pressed sex­u­al­ity and con­fused per­ver­sity.

How­ever, the ca­su­al­ness with which the film seems to have been made doesn’t quite al­low it to cross that line. In fact, it is not quite any­thing at all — not quite a comedy, not quite an ex­ploita­tion flick.

“The Lit­tle Hours” re­lies heav­ily on cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance for its en­ter­tain­ment value. The cast is stacked with comedy stars we aren’t used to see­ing in pe­riod pieces, out­fit­ted in in­ten­tion­ally ter­ri­ble wigs.

We see Fer­nanda (Aubrey Plaza), swathed in a heavy black habit, be­fore we hear her, as she leads a don­key back to the con­vent. But as soon as she opens her mouth, the film’s gim­mick reveals it­self. She and the other nuns, Genevra (Kate Micucci) and Alessan­dra (Ali­son Brie), speak in the slangy, ob­scen­ity-laden lan­guage of mod­ern youth.

Life at the con­vent isn’t much fun, and these nuns just want to have fun. They take out some of their frus­tra­tions on the gar­dener, ver­bally abus­ing and as­sault­ing him be­fore he runs off. To replace him, Fa­ther Tom­masso (John C. Reilly) brings on young hunk Mas­setto (Dave Franco), whom he finds in the woods. Mas­setto’s flee­ing the wrath of his master, Lord Bruno (Nick Of­fer­man), who is an­gry at him for sleep­ing with his wife, Francesca (Lau­ren Weed­man). Mas­setto im­me­di­ately be­comes the tar­get of the en­tire con­vent’s sex­ual en­ergy — poor kid never stood a chance against those randy young nuns.

“The Lit­tle Hours” gets freaky, but it never feels truly sub­ver­sive or even that tit­il­lat­ing. The les­bian scenes are lit­tle more than dorm room ex­per­i­men­ta­tion; the oc­cult fer­til­ity rit­ual a joke. Per­haps, be­cause ev­ery­one is op­er­at­ing at such a high level of irony, it’s impossible to take any­thing se­ri­ous. The film­mak­ing doesn’t smooth those rough edges, ei­ther, and it feels awk­ward and stilted. The nat­u­ral world pro­vides lovely scenery, but the cam­era re­mains rooted in place, us­ing retro,’70s-style long zooms, a nod at the genre’s era.

De­liv­er­ing a sin­cere per­for­mance is Brie, who has a face made for a habit — she even bears a pass­ing re­sem­blance to Deb­o­rah Kerr, of that nuns-gone-wild mas­ter­piece “Black Nar­cis­sus.” Fred Ar­misen, as a vis­it­ing bishop, de­liv­ers the film’s few real out-loud laughs, es­pe­cially dur­ing a tri­bunal af­ter the young nuns par­take in a wild bel­ladonna and blood-soaked night.

For all the at­tempts at sub­ver­sion — the swear­ing, Fer­nanda’s in­ex­pli­ca­ble and vi­o­lent rage, the witchy les­bian­ism — the film re­solves it­self quickly and con­ser­va­tively. “The Lit­tle Hours” never re­ally com­mits to be­ing one thing or an­other. There aren’t any writ­ten jokes, but it treats its own genre as a punch­line. Ul­ti­mately, you’re just left won­der­ing what it is and what the point of it all might be.

Sun­dance In­sti­tute

IT COULD BE HABIT FORM­ING: Sis­ters Genevra (Kate Micucci, left), Alessan­dra (Ali­son Brie) and Fer­nanda (Aubrey Plaza) are ready for ac­tion at con­vent.

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