Don’t you love watching a charmingly irreverent movie? Not “charming yet irreverent” or “irreverent yet charming,” but “charmingly irreverent.” The Little Hours fits into this very niche description, creating a rather endearing impression despite (or rather because of) the lewdness, crassness, and coarseness running through it.
We’re taken to 14th century Garfagnana where a convent is run by Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly). Chief among his flock are three sisters, Alessandra (Allison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and Ginevra (Kate Micucci). The first longs for marriage and an ordinary life, the second seeks thrills and mischief, while the third craves the approbation of her sisterly peers. In more ways than one, they’re unsuited to a life of piety, and the situation is made even more untenable when a supposed deaf-mute named Massetto (Dave Franco) is hired as the new gardener at the convent.
Within a day, Massetto becomes the object of fascination for our three female leads, each identifying a desire that can be fulfilled through this male vessel. Naturally, most of these desires are carnal, and Massetto is fully equipped to satisfy their wishes given his past transgressions, namely fornicating with his former master’s wife. Sisters of the church should be no trouble to him.
We’re dealt a hand of pretty imperfect characters residing within an establishment that demands much more. However, in some cases, they’re trying to be less imperfect. Massetto, on the run from his master, is persuaded by Father Tommasso to choose a life at the convent, hoping that it would reform him. He gives it everything at the beginning, using the “deaf-mute” guise as a way to fend off the sisters, but their hold can be overpowering. The sisters aren’t sinister, sadistic, or lecherous. Played by three different actors, those descriptors might have been suitable. But here, Brie’s privileged romanticism, Plaza’s deadpan nonchalance, and Micucci’s innocent naivety work to project different paths to growing up. These are women moving into adulthood in a rigid and restricted environment.
Emotional maturity, social camaraderie, and sexual relations. These are difficult experiences for most young adults, so it’s infinitely more challenging in a 14th-century convent. Granted, those in a convent aren’t meant to focus on at least one of those three things, but these women aren’t there by choice. Whether it’s experiencing a late-night booze fest or physical intimacy for the first time, they’re just trying to experience rites of passage before the clock runs out.
Fitting taboo elements, most pertaining to sex and sexuality, within the confines of a convent is what makes all of this irreverent, yet it’s how these people go about handling these subjects that makes the entire affair charmingly irreverent. Casting some comedic powerhouses whose affable natures are ubiquitous to the pop-culture informed also goes a tremendously long way. Doing so removes the scandalous and controversial nature of these taboo topics.
All of this makes The Little Hours a weirdly romantic film, where people are looking for love however they can, in doses both large and small. You can call it a coming-of-age movie set in a 14th-century convent, laced with strong laughs thanks to some outrageous medieval age scenarios matched incongruously with contemporary dialogue. It’s all good over-the-top fun.
If you like this film, check out our other comedy reviews.