Your enjoyment of “The Little Hours” will depend on your response to a sex comedy that looks one way (14th-century Italian folktale) and sounds another (21st-century American deadpan; Aubrey Plaza of “Parks and Recreation” is in it, after all). The strategy works surprisingly well. This may be a one-joke movie, but many recent comedies would kill for that many.
The film’s story springs from “The Decameron,” Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th-century collection of randy tales that inspired everything from Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” to the 1962 film anthology “Boccaccio ’70.” Much of the film is set in a Tuscan convent, where a manservant (Dave Franco) is on the run from a vengeful lord (Nick Offerman) and the lord’s bored wife (Lauren Weedman) after the servant’s dalliances with the missus come to light.
The man is given shelter by the monastery priest (John C. Reilly), and together concoct a ruse to have the Franco character, Masseto, pose as a deaf mute. The priest counsels him to avoid the women in residence, who may find his presence distracting. The central trio of lust-addled females in inconvenient habits is played by Alison Brie (married to Franco in real life), Kate Micucci and Plaza.
The side characters include a Mother Superior (Molly Shannon, playing it straight), secretly in bed with Reilly’s amiable priest, and a local bishop (Fred Armisen), aghast at the activities of the monastery.
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The women at the heart of “The Little Hours” all want out. Brie’s character, the prim one, is hot to marry the local merchant, but her father (Paul Reiser) can’t come up with a proper dowry. Much of the dialogue leans on blunt anachronism, though in one early trash-talking sequence, in which the ladies harass the monastery gardener, director Jeff Baena’s script pointedly references the anti-Semitism of Boccaccio’s stories.
Filming on location in Tuscany, cinematographer Quyen Tran lends a glow and sheen to the images, though the camera’s dreamy slow zooms recall an Italian soft-core romp of the 1970s. Sensual longing isn’t incidental either to Boccaccio or to “The Little Hours”; it’s the energy source. Among a savvy cast, Weedman tops the roster with her priceless, understated turn as the royal sneaking around with a Franco.
‘The Little Hours’
Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content and language. 1:30. Kentucky.