Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Little Hours inconsistent but enjoyably quirky

July 21, 2017 by Aaron Stefik, contributing writer

Director Jeff Baena’s made-for-Sundance sex comedy The Little Hours (which opens on Friday, July 21 in Victoria) is a ribald gallop through a pair of related stories from Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th-century masterpiece The Decameron.

Dave Franco stars as Massetto, a servant to font-of-deadpan-farce Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman). When Bruno discovers his illicit affair with the lady of the house, Massetto runs off to take shelter in a nearby convent while posing as a deaf-mute handyman, watched over by the fumbling Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly). Meanwhile, Sister Alessandra (Alison Brie) and her fellow nuns devolve into bawdy desperation and witchcraft over the presence of their male visitor.

The Little Hours opens tonight in Victoria (photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky).

If Baena’s sins from previous projects continue to haunt him here, it’s in his pacing, which is at times meandering and seems deliberately irascible. Additionally, Dan Romer’s score, although timeless, clashes rather than juxtaposes with Baena’s irreverent Americanized dialogue. The film is perhaps too impressed with the latter decision, and a few too many scenes hang on the irony of foul-mouthed and distempered nuns sounding off like cosmopolitan twenty-somethings.

Despite the resulting bowlegged tone, the film keeps its head firmly above water on the backs of a number of standout performances. Reilly’s delightfully human and often hilariously dry reactions pair well with Franco as a grounding point for the more absurd scenarios demanded by the plot. Franco’s own chemistry with Brie and the other nuns is reminiscent of the best of the Coen brothers’ surreal comedy. This comes to a head whenever Fred Armisen’s Bishop Bartolomeo is on screen, fully achieving the sitcom-esque effect that the film appears to be aiming for.

Even where a forced joke drags on just a little too long, there is a sense that the cast is all in it together, and this same harmony carries over to the best and most sensuously amusing moments that make this film ultimately worthwhile. By turns hectic, deadpan, orgiastic, and oddly resonant, Little Hours earns its keep, or, at least, is not likely to send the viewer to the confessional anytime soon.

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