When he is caught cheating with his master’s wife, manservant Massetto (Dave Franco) is forced to flee Lunigiana Castle and take up refuge at a nearby convent, where he disguises himself as a deaf mute and earns his keep as a humble handyman. Unbeknownst to Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly), who welcomed the stranger onto the grounds, the resident nuns — most notably Alessandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and Genevra (Kate Micucci) — have taken a keen interest in Massetto, and set out to seduce him.

The stage was set for an anachronistic, anarchic period romp in the vein of Your Highness; certainly, the old-fashioned font, the ad-libbed one-liners, and the fact that Dave Franco has rarely looked more like his older brother immediately brought that film to mind, even if the genre and gender focus couldn’t be more different. The Little Hours could have been a guilty pleasure, a noble or even ignoble quest, but alas it can’t muster the energy to be much of anything at all. It’s certainly not funny, that’s for sure.

The Little HoursIf there were any jokes written for The Little Hours then it seems they were at some point shelved in favour of improvisation on set. On paper, or not, as the case appears to be, this mightn’t have seemed like such a bad idea. After all, with a cast of tried and tested comic talents including Brie, Plaza, Reilly, Franco and Nick Offerman as Lunigiana’s Lord Bruno, it’s not inconceivable that they might have entertained on their own merits had they been given the right material. Unfortunately, an uninspiring premise and a paper thin plot doesn’t give the actors nearly enough to work with.

After all, this is a film where the central gag — imitating a seemingly innocuous period drama until the characters start throwing shade in contemporary American vernacular — is also the only gag. Although loosely based on a collection of novellas by respected Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio, and despite apparently positioning itself as some sort of socio-historical commentary on repression and religious subjugation, Jeff Baena’s The Little Hours seems perfectly happy to settle for sisters swear at one another. None of the later developments — Massetto being mistaken for a deaf-mute; the introduction of a neighbouring coven — adds anything at all.

Even at a respectably brusque ninety minutes, you spend roughly half of The Little Hours waiting for the film to get going and the other half wishing it would hurry up and end. Ultimately it does neither, simply coasting along from one crude outburst to the next, until all involved simply give up and wait for the audience to leave. Not blasphemy then, just blah.

The Little Hours is playing at the EIFF 2017.