Regina Hall, Marsai Martin get small with big message
Starring Regina Hall, Issa Rae & Marsai Martin
Directed by Tina Gordon
Time travel, body switching, growing big, shrinking small—movies have certainly been there, done that.
Little gives an old, familiar theme a somewhat new spin in its tale of a hard-charging, bullying business executive who gets zapped back to a much younger version of herself.
Regina Hall plays the grown-up Jordan Sanders, a real bitch on wheels—whether she’s peeling out in her ultra-cool BMW sports coupe, cutting line at the coffee kiosk, shoving little kids out of her way or barking at her employees at the tech company she runs. Somehow, her long-suffering assistant, April (Issa Rae), has endured the abuse for three long years.
When Jordan makes the mistake of dissing a little girl who tries to entertain her with a magic trick, she gets whammy-ed—and wakes up the next morning freaked out that she’s the 13-year-old she used to be.
At this point, Jordan is played by young Marsai Martin (she’s daughter Diane on ABC’s hit comedy Black-ish). And Little becomes a little of this, and a little of that. It’s a pleasant enough springtime diversion, with a bigger, multi-cultural message of empowerment for women of color.
You’ll probably think about Big, and maybe Freaky Friday, 17 Again and 13 Going on 30. The characters in Little do—if only to note that those movies, and those kind of things, typically happen to, well, another demographic. “You went to bed grown and woke up little,” April says, marveling at the transformation of her now-pint-size boss. “That’s for white people—black people don’t have the time.”
Little takes the time, however, to force the humor in just about every situation as April “fronts” for Jordan back at the company, “little” Jordan enrolls in middle school to avoid a social-services intervention, and various life lessons are learned all around.
We learn that Jordan had a pretty horrible experience in middle school the first time, and her second time doesn’t start off any better. But a subplot, about her bonding with a group of fellow “outcasts,” is a big buildup to a sweet, doughy nothing, like sugary cakes and other dreaded carbs that grown-up Jordan deplores.
Hall, who was acclaimed for her acting in The Hate U Give and the indie drama Support the Girls, and some raunchy laughs in Girls Trip, brings brass and sass to the adult version of Jordan. Rae, who segued from her YouTube series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, to HBO’s Insecure, rocks as April, bridging both “Jordans” with her considerable comedic gifts.
In her first major movie role, Martin looks like she’s having a ball, playing “grown-up” with a twist—she’s a real grown-up frustrated by having to return to an awkward time, in an awkward body, dealing with awkward situations.
SNL’s Mikey Day plays a spoiled-brat billionaire client of Jordan’s company. Listen closely and you might recognize the voice of Tracee Ellis Ross (also from TV’s Black-ish) coming from Jordan’s virtual assistant, HomeGirl. Tone Bell, from the CBS sitcom Fam, plays April’s coworker, Preston, who supports one of her ideas, an app that lets users “see the world through the eyes of a child.”
Justin Hartley, who plays Kevin Pearson on This Is Us, has a couple of scenes as little Jordan’s hunky middle school teacher. Luke James (he’s Noah Brooks on the Fox musical-drama series Star) is Jordan’s sexy suitor, Trevor, who’s plenty confused by Jordan’s middle-school masquerade. The scenes of 13-year-old Jordan with “big” men—who don’t realize she’s actually a woman in the body of a teenager—are meant to be funny, but they’re just a little creepy.
One of the writers of Little also worked on the screenplay of Girls Trip, but this movie—as befitting a storyline built around a 13-year-old—isn’t anywhere near as raunchy. It does, however, make snickering jokes about lady parts, the desirability of one particular non-black male (“the other white meat”) and how April seems to be constantly horny.
But the movie’s central idea of a headstrong, super-smart, successful black woman running her own business empire—that’s certainly a noble one. Even if she does have to learn, in a rather humbling, magical way, that “to live your best life” isn’t all about being rich, bossy, persnickety and bitchy.
The plot is paper-thin and the supporting characters are little more than cutouts in this modern-world fantasy, but one thing does ring true: The idea came from an authentic place. Little Marsai Martin herself, then only 10, pitched the concept (inspired by watching the movie Big) to a producer of Black-ish, Girls Trip and Ride Along, and she became one of Little’s executive producers.
That makes her the youngest executive producer of a major, mainstream Hollywood film ever.
Now that’s big.
In theaters Friday, April 12, 2019