What does a movie about sex-crazed, abusive nuns featuring a slew of big-name celebrities have to do with Judaism? Not much on the surface, but it should come as no surprise that proper Hollywood Catholic sex comedy wouldn’t be complete without its share of Jews.
The stars of this bawdy indie comedy are the adorably Jewish, and adorably married, Dave Franco and Alison Brie. Then, Girls star (and Jewish mother, and lover of Shabbat) Jemima Kirke plays a Jessa-esque layperson, Marta, who sneaks into the monastery to tell the nuns about the “greatest pleasure on earth” (spoiler alert: it’s sex).
Naturally, then, there are shoutouts to the Chosen People from time to time, usually in the form of an accusation. It’s one of the many jabs at the medieval Christian society in the film, an era where Jews, to put it mildly, weren’t welcomed, and the very word “Jew” would be akin to an insult.
“They’re not good people. They spit on me,” says the gardener to the monastery priest—they’re played by Paul Weitz and John C. Reilly, respectively—while complaining that he was physically attacked by the nuns for no other reason than their entertainment. “They called me a Jew, Father Tommasso,” the gardener complains. There’s no more solid proof of a hostile workplace.
The movie, written and directed by Jeff Baena, is a spin on Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, reimagining its 14th-century monastery as a sort of boarding school for damaged and bored teenagers. The girls want to rebel, they want to drink, and they want to have sex, specifically with Dave Franco, who plays Massetto, a laborer who pretends he’s a deaf mute in order to stave off their aggressive advances. It doesn’t work. But ultimately, he doesn’t seem to mind the abuse.
Being a little sex-crazed himself, Massetto thought toiling at the monastery would help his soul find redemption. God has other plans. It also probably didn’t help that he chose to start a new life in a monastery where the confessional booth sounds more like a locker room.
“Is it also sodomy if I placed my mouth on her sex while she placed her mouth on my sex?” Massetto asks.
Father Tommasso, intrigued, replies, “Why would you do that?”
“Because she liked it.”
And all is forgiven.
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Sophie Aroesty is an editorial intern at Tablet.