By Audrey Ruppert
“Little” is indeed, if you were wondering, inspired by the Tom Hanks classic “Big,” but only in premise - the latter is a heartfelt drama, while the former is a comedy that fell just a bit flat. It seems that the director, Tina Gordon, is into loose remakes, as she recently wrote the screenplay for “What Men Want” - a remake of “What Women Want” featuring Mel Gibson.
“Little” is a body-swap story, which centers on Jordan (Regina Hall) - a terrifying, “Devil Wears Prada”-esque executive who belittles and demeans everyone around her, including her devoted assistant, April (Issa Rae). It is later revealed that Jordan behaves this way because of childhood trauma; after the experience, she vowed to become successful at all costs. While Jordan’s company is mostly thriving, she has some eccentric clientele and nearly loses an important client. She is told she has 48 hours to come up with an idea to bring the client back into the fold. In the middle of this dilemma, Jordan runs into and bullies a child, who wishes that Jordan was “little” so that someone could “check her.” The child casts a spell, and Jordan wakes up as her 13-year-old self. She is forced to go back to the same school she went to as a kid by child protective services, and April has to take over for her at the company.
The problem with “Little” is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. At first, it tries to be a “black” comedy (as in, a comedy starring and largely directed toward a black audience) in the vein of “Girls Trip” and “Night School,” but later, it tries to have some kind of heartfelt moral - yet it gets bogged down by mixed messaging. By trying to be two things at once, it seems to fall short of both - it can be funny but isn’t that funny, and what moral were we supposed to learn, exactly? Be true to yourself? Ultimately, Jordan doesn’t seem to face a lot of consequences for her behavior (and trust me, her behavior is a lawsuit waiting to happen), which further dilutes any power the already tenuous message might have had to begin with.
While it tries to buck the trend somewhat (we have seen films where children are transformed into adults, or where two people switch bodies, but rarely see adults transformed into children), in the end, the film is formulaic and predictable, as well as hokey; some of the one-liners land, but most of them don’t.
That being said, the film is definitely a showcase of talented black performers. Marsai Martin absolutely shines as the 13-year-old Jordan, capturing the mannerisms and attitude of her adult counterpart perfectly; we can expect great things from her in the future. Regina Hall sets the stage rather well despite not having much screen time, and Issa Rae, while understated, has great chemistry with Martin.
Some parts of the film are genuinely funny as well, particularly scenes involving the child-sized but adult-minded Jordan and her extremely uncomfortable and (very attractive) middle school teacher.
If you don’t take the film too seriously, it’s definitely a fun watch. It does drag slightly toward the end, but I imagine it would be enjoyable to see with a mature teenage daughter. And, of course, it’s always encouraging to see the normalization of a black, female CEO - even if she’s channeling Miranda Priestly for most the film!