Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Little Hours (2017)

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, John C Reilly, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Nick Offerman

Directed by: Jeff Baena

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

The Little Hours is a very silly film indeed.

Set in the 14th century and loosely based on Boccaccio's Decameron, the film (from the team that brought us delightful rom-zom-com Life After Beth) tells the tale of a group of nuns in a medieval convent. They pray, they bicker, they look after the donkey, they wonder what it's like to be with a man. They're pretty bawdy, but then, as anyone who's read Chaucer (or indeed, presumably, The Decameron) knows, ye olde medievale peeps were no strangers to raunchy language and penis jokes. Except that rather than conversing in manere gentil nonnes, these sisters all totally talk they're in Heathers, you know. For real.

Audrey Plaza, Alison Brie and Kate Micucci in The Little Hours

Come to think of it, a comparison with Heathers bears some examination. Like the elite schoolgirl clique of the '80s movie, our nuns (played by Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and Kate Micucci – aka Raj's weird girlfriend in The Big Bang Theory) are confined within a claustrophobic, hothouse environment with a rigid pecking order. And just as the world of the Heathers and Veronica is turned upside down by the arrival of Christian Slater's handsome misfit JD, so the sisters are thrown into turmoil by the arrival of a handsome new handy man. Passions and jealousies run high, communion wine is liberally swigged and the f-word is dropped as frequently as the knickers... I've not actually seen Ken Russell's scurrilously sordid X-rated religious horror film The Devils (bit scared, to be honest) but I strongly suspect... that The Little Hours is nothing like it.

What it is like is Monty Python remaking Black Narcissus in the style of an Ealing comedy (the retro Technicolor titles are a delight) resulting in a gloriously anachronistic take on medieval history. And it's pretty funny. Not hilarious, just... pretty funny.

John C Reilly as Father Tommasso in The Little Hours

Yet, like Life of Brian or Holy Grail (only, like, not as funny), The Little Hours still manages to reveal some truths about what life must have been like back then. The nuns are isolated, trapped, bored, frustrated, with nothing to look forward to but more of the same; the handy man, Massetto (Dave Franco) is at the mercy of his master. All anyone in the film really wants is friendship, love and security. A thoroughly enjoyable, lightweight romp with a great cast and a hidden heart of gold, The Little Hours is maybe not so silly after all.

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