Netflix Review – The Little Hours: A Modern Comedy About Medieval Nuns

A packed cast of comedians star in this film about life in a Fourteenth Century convent.

SUMMARY

It’s 1347 in Italy and a convent of nuns is being led by Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly). The nuns, particularly the extremely angry Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), drive off the gardener and caretaker Lurco (Paul Weitz), forcing Father Tommasso to look for another one. At the same time, a servant named Massetto (Dave Franco) is kicked out of his position and ordered arrested by his master, Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman) for sleeping with his wife Francesca (Lauren Weedman). Massetto flees and runs into Tommasso, who has gotten drunk and lost the embroideries he was supposed to sell to fund the convent. Tommasso agrees to hide Massetto at the convent in exchange for being a gardener and pretending to be a deaf-mute.

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Wanna know what they’re doing? Nun-ya business. I don’t regret this joke.

Despite not being able to talk, Tommasso is soon befriended by Sister Alessandra (Alison Brie) who grows infatuated with him. One night, Sister Fernanda’s friend Marta (Jemima Kirke) appears and all of the nuns, including Alessandra, Fernanda, Sister Ginevra (Kate Micucci), and Mother Marea (Molly Shannon) get drunk while they’re being told that sex is amazing. Fernanda takes a drunken Ginevra back to her room for sex while Alessandra and Massetto start to get closer.

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Fernanda doesn’t quite get along with him. Or anyone.

At one point, Fernanda kidnaps Massetto and she and Marta have sex with him, seemingly confirming him as a viable candidate for something. Ginevra is upset by this, having fallen for Fernanda. Massetto and Alessandra begin getting physical, but get interrupted by one of the elders coming into the room. Soon, Fernanda again kidnaps Massetto, this time taking him to a coven of witches in the woods who prepare to sacrifice him for a fertility ritual. They’re stopped by Ginevra, who has consumed a bunch of drugs and shows up high, but Massetto reveals that he’s not a deaf-mute while escaping. The group is caught returning to the convent by the visiting Bishop Bartolomeo (Fred Armisen), who uncovers all of the secrets, including that Ginevra is Jewish and that Tommasso and Marea are having sex.

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She’s not sure he’s getting her point. I do kind of apologize for this joke.

Massetto is sent back to Lord Bruno, but is rescued by Alessandra and the other nuns. They all escape together, passing Tommasso and Marea who have likewise fled, and everyone lives happily ever after, except Bruno’s wife who is probably dead.

END SUMMARY

This movie is the most bizarre concoction I’ve seen in a while. It’s an adaptation of one of the stories from the Decameron, specifically the first story of Day 3, albeit a very loose adaptation. In the original, Massetto is a man pretending to be a mute gardener for the purpose of, successfully, seducing the nuns. It turns out that they actually choose to take advantage of him, believing that a mute won’t ever tell anyone. Unfortunately, he underestimates their desires, resulting in him having to beg for help from sheer exhaustion. He ends up begging mercy from the Abbess, who ends up keeping him at the abbey as a steward so that he can continue to service the nuns until he’s very old. That particular story, told by Filostrato within the text, would likely have been a very bawdy comedy by the standards of 1353. My favorite line is: “Madam, I have heard say that one cock sufficeth unto half a score hens, but that half a score men can ill or hardly satisfy one woman; whereas needs must I serve nine, and to this I can no wise endure; nay, for that which I have done up to now, I am come to such a pass that I can do neither little nor much.” While that’s not exactly how the film plays out, you can definitely see the influence.

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Other stories might also be derived from this.

A lot of the quality in the film is the dialogue, most of which sounds like contemporary speech adapted into subject matter fit for the 1300s. It helps that everyone delivering the lines are all comic geniuses, but Jeff Baena, the writer/director/husband of Aubrey Plaza also does a good job of crafting anachronistic situations that are just farcical enough to work. Granted, a lot of the secret to the movie is that it is just 90 minutes. Any longer and the premise would completely have run out.

Every performance is great, but I do have to say that Fred Armisen’s inquisition scenes basically had me floored with his delivery and quips. If you don’t get into the movie, I’d recommend going ahead and fast-forwarding to that sequence just to enjoy 5 minutes of sheer madness.

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Overall, I liked this movie. Not loved, but liked for sure. What shocks me is that I hadn’t heard about it before now. Usually when something has a cast this good and I don’t hear about it, I have to assume that it was just that bad, but this actually got decent reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes the audience score isn’t great, but for a film like this that’s not surprising. It’s not going to be everyone’s taste, but if you like the people in it, you’ll probably enjoy it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Greatest Valentine’s Day Episodes

Okay, so, I’m going to die alone, but for those of you who aren’t, here’s a list of some of the best Valentine’s Day episodes of TV. Or, really, just the first 5 episodes I could think of that were good. I didn’t think of this until Monday, so cut me a break.

Runner Up: Galentine’s Day (Parks and Rec)

Why is this a runner up? Because it’s not a V-day episode…  and although most of it takes place at a Valentine’s Dance, it’s mostly about breakups.

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Galentine’s Day is the 13th of February, and it’s a holiday made up by Pawnee, Indiana resident Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) to celebrate strong, independent women. Leslie’s widowed mother, Marlene (Pamela Reed), a guest at the Galentine’s celebration, tells the story of her first love, a lifeguard she met years before she met Leslie’s father, with whom she had a passionate affair before her parents made her break it off.

ValentinesGalentinesLeslie, with encouragement from Justin (Justin Theroux), a man she’s been dating, goes to find the lifeguard and reunite the lovers after all these years. Unfortunately, while Marlene grew up to be a civic leader, the lifeguard, Frank (John Larroquette), is just a barrel full of problems. He’s immature, unsophisticated, unemployed, and just generally is the worst. Marlene understandably wants nothing to do with him.

This leads Leslie to realize she doesn’t really like Justin. Meanwhile, her co-workers’ relationships are similarly dissolving. Tom (Aziz Ansari) is rejected by his ex-wife. April (Aubrey Plaza) breaks up with her boyfriend and his boyfriend. Ann (Rashida Jones) and Mark (Paul Schneider) are still together, but it’s clear Ann is looking to get out of the relationship… which leads Mark to get out of the show.

Message received: Love is a lie and everyone dies alone. Happy Galentine’s Day!!!

5) Operation Ann (Parks and Rec)

Okay, I had to make it up to Parks and Rec, both for lambasting Galentine’s Day and for not ever finding an episode of the show quite remarkable enough to get onto this list, despite how much I like the show.

Here’s the thing about Parks and Rec: Every single couple at the end of the show is basically perfect.

April and Andy (Aubrey Plaza and Chris Pratt), Leslie and Ben (Amy Poehler and Adam Scott), Ann and Chris (Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe), Tom and Lucy (Aziz Ansari and Natalie Morales), Donna and Joe (Retta and Keegan-Michael Key), Garry and Gayle (Jim O’Heir and Christie Brinkley), Ron and Diane (Nick Offerman and Lucy Lawless), even Craig and Typhoon (Billy Eichner and Rodney To). All of them are amazing. Which is why it’s so great to see where some of these relationships start to develop.

ValentinesBenLeslie.gifThis episode starts with Leslie having her first V-Day with a serious boyfriend, Ben. She makes an overly-elaborate series of puzzles involving multiple riddles that range from “weird” to “punishingly difficult.” Even Leslie admits, at one point, that it’s probably impossible for Ben to actually solve them all. In desperation, Ben asks Ron and Andy for help. Along the way, Ben finds out that Ron actually loves puzzles and riddles, despite his earlier objections to them. In the end, Ron intuits the final solution to Leslie’s riddle, saving Ben.

valentinesanntom.jpgMeanwhile, Leslie asks the office to help find a boyfriend for Ann, who is somehow single despite being sweet, smart, and looking like Rashida Jones (it actually gets explained later that she has some issues). At the same time, Chris, the perpetual optimist, is depressed because he has been dumped by his most recent girlfriend. At the end of the episode, Ann ends up hanging out with Tom, which proves to be a horrible mistake, and Chris realizes that he’s only single because he broke up with Ann for basically no reason aside from location. This leaves both of them in the position to get back together in the future, after they both grow a little bit.

Also, April and Andy are together, and they’re perfect, and I love them.ValentinesAprilAndy.jpg

 4) Anna Howard Shaw Day (30 Rock)

Much like Parks and Rec, even though I love this show it never made it onto the list. Only 2 episodes got nominated, and this is… not one of them, but it’s a natural fit to put it here. Too bad I don’t have a Leap Day list.

Valentines30Rock.jpg30 Rock is a show about putting on an SNL-like show called “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” which is filmed at NBC headquarters located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

30 Rock doesn’t have the perfect ending for everyone, but it has a solid happy ending for most of the characters. It also points out that, even if you don’t find love in another person, you can find it in your friends and family.

ValentinesLizLemon.gifAt the beginning of this episode, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) has set a root canal on Valentine’s Day, which she calls “Anna Howard Shaw Day” after the female civil rights leader born on Feb. 14, but discovers that everyone else has plans and thus she has no one who can drive her home while she’s under anesthesia. At the same time, her boss, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), meets Avery Jessup (Elizabeth Banks), the ultra-conservative woman of his dreams. Jack tries to woo her, including planning a celebrity party where he invites Jon Bon Jovi (Music Guy), but ends up snubbing him because he’s interested in what she’s saying. Naturally, they bang, and agree to go out again on V-day. On Valentine’s Day, Liz gets her root canal, telling the dental staff that she’ll be fine to go home. On the way out, however, Liz hallucinates that the nurses are her ex-boyfriends, leading the staff to call Jack to help. Jack agrees, but Avery assumes that it’s just an excuse to dump her after they’ve had sex. Jack counters by offering to have her come along, which impresses Avery even more with his kindness. Liz passes out, but at least she knows she has a friend.

At the same time, Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) is depressed because her stalker appears to have lost interest in her. Kenneth the Page (Jack McBrayer) is confused as to why she’s upset that her stalker has moved on, only for Jenna to tell Kenneth that her stalker is her longest relationship. Kenneth proceeds to send her threatening letters to show that he cares.

Basically, this episode reminds us that friendship is a kind of love, too.

ValentinesAnnaHowardShaw

 3) My Funky Valentine (Modern Family)

Modern Family was a show about how there are different, viable models of family structure than just the traditional Nuclear Family. It covered one family in three households.

Household 1 is the Dunphy family. Goofy dad Phil (Ty Burrell), his wife Claire (Julie Bowen), and their kids Haley, Alex, and Luke (Sarah Hyland, Ariel Winter, and Nolan Gould). Household 2 is the Pritchetts: Claire’s dad Jay (Ed O’Neill), his younger, hotter wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara), Gloria’s son Manny (Rico Rodriguez), and their baby Joe (Jeremy McGuire). Household 3 is the Pritchett-Tuckers: Claire’s brother Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), his husband Cam (Eric Stonestreet), and their daughter Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons).

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This episode’s main focus is Phil and Claire. Phil has taken Claire to the same restaurant for most of their history together, so this year he decides to rent a hotel and have the two of them roleplay for the evening instead. Phil is Clive, a businessman, and Claire is Julianna, a housewife. As they flirt at the bar, Claire goes to the bathroom and removes all of her clothes, returning wearing just a coat. As they make their way up to the room, however, the coat gets caught in the escalator. Claire cannot get out of the coat withouthaving to run to the room naked, and multiple acquaintances keep showing up… all of whom just tell her to get out of the coat.

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Jay and Gloria go to a comedy club at the same hotel, which is fun until the comedian starts making fun of Jay’s age. They leave and run into Claire… who Gloria quickly helps, having realized the situation immediately, since apparently it had happened to her before. Claire and Phil go to their room… where it’s later revealed Phil screwed up the entire evening somehow by mis-using oil.

Meanwhile, Mitchell is depressed because he broke up his and Cam’s Valentine’s plans due to needing to work on a case, only for the client to settle, preventing Mitchell from delivering the best speech he’d ever written. Manny, who they’re watching while Jay and Gloria are out, is also depressed because he wrote a Valentine’s Day poem for a girl in his class, and another boy took credit for it. Manny and the couple go to the restaurant and confront the boy, with Mitch delivering a version of the speech he’d written. Unfortunately, the girl actually likes the other guy more, so Manny’s still single.

I love this episode because it emphasizes the show’s message of “every couple is different.”

2) Three Valentines (Frasier)

Already wrote this one, not doing it again. Still hilarious.

1) I Love Lisa (The Simpsons)

It probably says a lot that my number one pick is an episode about a girl taking pity on a boy, him taking it the wrong way, her having to break his heart, and them ending up friends… but, that’s for my therapist. Here’s the winner:

This episode is one of the best episodes of the Simpsons, and that’s saying something.

It’s Valentine’s Day in Springfield and Lisa’s class (Yeardley Smith) is giving Valentine’s ValentinesChooChooCards to each other. Unfortunately, Ralph Wiggum (Nancy Cartwright), who is not the brightest kid in the class… nor the most sanitary, doesn’t get a single card. Seeing him heartbroken, Lisa feels pity for him and gives him a card saying “I choo-choo-choose you.” This leads Ralph to fall in love with Lisa, who does not reciprocate. At all. This is made worse when Ralph and Lisa are picked to play George and Martha Washington in the school play.

Ralph’s father, Chief Wiggum (Hank Azaria), gets them tickets to a Krusty the Clown Live show, which Lisa desperately wants to go to. Unfortunately, Krusty starts talking to the audience, leading Ralph to proclaim his love for Lisa on live TV… which Lisa responds to by telling him that “I don’t like you! I never liked you and the only reason I gave you that stupid valentine is because nobody else would!” Bart (Cartwright) later uses a recording of this to show Lisa the exact moment Ralph’s heart rips in half.ValentinesRalph

Ultimately, Lisa tries to apologize to Ralph for being cruel, but Ralph focuses on his role as George Washington, leading him to give a stellar performance and the interest of multiple new women. Lisa finally gives him an apology card with a bee on it, saying “Let’s Bee Friends.”ValentinesBeeFriends

This is an amazing episode, even if it’s a bit heartbreaking, because that’s really just how it is sometimes. The girl you like doesn’t like you back. The thing you thought was caring was just friendship. And that’s okay.