Saturday, January 06, 2018
The Little Hours
Based on a story from The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, The Little Hours is the story of a young man who is taken in by a priest to work at a convent unaware that the nuns are anything but celibate. Written for the screen and directed by Jeff Baena, the film is a bawdy take on Boccaccio’s story as it is set during the middle ages with elements of modern-day humor to explore some of the darkest aspects of faith and how insane things can go. Starring Aubrey Plaza, Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Kate Micucci, Jemima Kirke, Fred Armisen, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Paul Reiser, and John C. Reilly. The Little Hours is a wild and offbeat film from Jeff Baena.
The film follows a convent that is need of a new handyman where its priest takes in a young man that is on the run following a tryst with a nobleman’s wife as he pretends to be a deaf-mute leading to all sorts of trouble. It’s a film where a trio of nuns cope with temptation as they meet this young man who intrigues them as they deal with their own sexual repression and other things. Jeff Baena’s screenplay is quite loose where it play into these situations that are absurd as much of the dialogue in the film is improvised where the characters pretty much get to say things that are more direct and modern rather than take on the language of that period. It’s a format that is unique though it does go overboard at times where it would affect the narrative where it wants to be this raunchy comedy that lives up to the text but also a period piece that is true to the times.
Baena’s direction is very simplistic in terms of its compositions as he doesn’t go into a lot of style as it’s more about dialogue and the setting. Shot on location in the Tuscany area of Italy, Baena does use its mountains and forests as a suitable setting for the film that does create a world that is mysterious but also simpler despite the attitude of some of the characters. While Baena would use some wide shots for a lot of the exteriors and in some of the interiors in some creative compositions. Much of the film is approached more intimately with the close-ups and medium shots that play into the interaction with the characters as well as some of the comedy. Though Baena’s approach to improvisation would hamper the narrative a bit in terms of its pacing and its attempt to be shocking. There is still something that does play true to the text as well as showcase a group of nuns struggling to maintain their vow of chastity in a world that is very repressive. Overall, Baena crafts a witty though uneven film about a trio of nuns who go after a man pretending to be a deaf-mute handyman at a convent.
Cinematographer Quyen Tran does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward for many of the scenes set in the day as well as the scenes at night with its usage of artificial light and fire. Editor Ryan Brown does nice work in the editing as it’s straightforward to play into the comedy as well as some of the absurd moments in the film. Production designer Susie Mancini and art director Andrew Katz do fantastic work with the look of the sets in many of the interiors for the convents and churches as well as the home of the nobleman. Costume designer Natalie O’Brien does terrific work with the costumes from the look of the nun robes as well as some of the lavish clothes of some of the locals. Sound editor Christopher Barnett does superb work with the sound in capturing some of the chaos that goes in some of the funnier moments as well as the calmness of the exterior locations. The film’s music by Dan Romer is wonderful for its usage of folk-based music of the times with some orchestral music while music supervisor Zach Cowie provide a soundtrack of the music of those times.
The casting by Courtney Bright and Nicole Daniels is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Paul Weitz as a handyman that is verbally-abused by the nuns, Lauren Weedman as the nobleman’s mother that Massetto sleeps with, Jon Garbus and Adam Pally as a couple of inept guards for the nobleman, Paul Reiser as Sister Alessandra’s father who is a patron of the church, Jemima Kirke as Fernanda’s friend Marta who is a real troublemaker, Nick Offerman as the nobleman Lord Bruno who always say very dull things, and Fred Armisen as Bishop Bartolomeo who makes a visit during the film’s third act where he is trying to see what is going on. Molly Shannon is fantastic as Sister Marea as the nun’s leader that is trying to maintain order while John C. Reilly is superb as Father Tommasso as the convent’s head who is trying to help make money for the church while hiring Massetto as the new handyman and have him pretend to be a deaf-mute.
Kate Micucci is excellent as Sister Ginevra as young woman who often says a lot of things that she sees that she feels could trouble things while dealing with her own issues relating to her sexual presence where Micucci would show a very funny moment in her encounter with a drug. Aubrey Plaza is brilliant as Sister Fernanda as a young woman that is just very intense as well as secretive to the point that she’s extremely defensive due to the fact that she is carrying a big secret. Dave Franco is amazing as Massetto as a nobleman’s servant who gets caught sleeping with his master’s wife only to pretend to be a deaf-mute who falls for Sister Alessandra and later be put into some serious shit with the other sisters. Finally, there’s Alison Brie in a remarkable performance as Sister Alessandra as a young nun who copes with loneliness and ponders what her future will be like until she meets and falls for Massetto which she tries to keep as a secret unaware of the chaos that is around her.
The Little Hours is a stellar though flawed film from Jeff Baena. Despite its attempt to provide a more modern approach to the film’s original text and infuse it with 21st Century humor. It’s a film that does provide enough funny moments as well as its exploration of sexual repression in the 14th Century thanks in part to its very talented cast. In the end, The Little Hours is a pretty good film from Jeff Baena.
Related: The Decameron
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