As co-writer on David O. Russell's beloved I Heart Huckabees, Jeff Baena's solo filmmaking career once carried an air of potential, but it was sadly and quickly squandered with the lifeless zombie rom-com Life After Beth and the misguided mumblecore misstep Joshy — that was two strikes, and Baena's latest, The Little Hours, looked as though it'd have him out for good as a director worth our attention.
On paper, The Little Hours is dumb as hell. Set in the 1300s, the film sees Baena once again working with a gigantic pile of recognizable, indie-friendly comedians — Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Jemima Kirke, Nick Offerman and Adam Pally all make appearances. Going into the film, one might expect Baena's own mediocre period piece comedy a la David Gordon Green's Your Highness or Harold Ramis' Year One.
Thankfully, all of those notions are proven wrong; The Little Hours is a comedic triumph. The film brims with energy because it admits that it's dumb as hell right from the get-go. Despite their ancient garb, the characters cuss constantly and engage in all manner of ludicrous behaviour.
Brie stars as Alessandra, a lovelorn nun wasting away in a convent, longing for love. She's joined by Micucci's Genevra and Plaza's Fernanda, fellow sisters of the faith who are constantly engaged in profanity-laced mischief. Their bumbling priest Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly, channelling his bumbling idiot energy in that special way only he can) does his best with the girls, but his penchant for dipping into the sacramental wine only worsens his buffoonery.
Meanwhile, Massetto (a chesty Dave Franco) is in deep trouble when he's caught fornicating with his master's wife. Escaping death, he buddies up with the priest and they make a plan — he can live at the convent, provided he pretends to be deaf and mute so as not to disturb the young girls. Unfortunately, the girls' morals are no match for Massetto's sexual prowess, and he becomes a key player in their sexual awakenings. From there, the film reaches hilarious heights of lunacy.
There's a message about dogma and sexual repression tucked into the end of The Little Hours, but it's mostly a crackling comedy that bristles with R-rated language, hilarious sight gags and a cool, vintage look (the constant zooms give the film a '70s feel). It appears Baena has finally hit his stride, creating a fucked-up fairy tale that brings constant, sturdy laughs. It's not for everyone, but if you're looking for a modern indie take on a Mel Brooks movie, you'll find a lot to love here. (Mongrel Media)