LITTLE Review: BIG This Definitely Isn’t

In recent years, there has been a growing cultural awareness of the extent to which the film industry is by and large dominated by men both in front of and behind the camera. To put a spotlight on women working in film, I am participating in the 52 Films By Women challenge. The requirements: watch at least one (1) new-to-you film per week that has been directed by a woman. As I make my way through the year, I will be reviewing each film I see as part of the challenge here.

52 Films By Women Entry #: 8

Little poster.jpg

There’s a fairly common saying - if you want to be generous in not calling it outright fantasy - that the smart people who get bullied as kids will one day grow up to become the bosses of the world. It is this empowering, and maybe a little bit vindictive, fantasy that is spoken into the ears of young Jordan Sanders (Marsai Martin) by her father at the age of thirteen. Having just been helplessly embarrassed by a bully at a school talent show, Jordan finds this appealing in the extreme.

It is that twisted little life lesson that must be unlearned via a staple of the family comedy toolkit: cosmic body-swapping hijinks. Years later, the grown Jordan (Regina Hall) now lives a lavish lifestyle running her own software firm, achievements gained through aggressively bullying and berating everyone around her. The key recipient of this abuse happens to be her put-upon assistant April (Issa Rae), who has had the confidence to so much as present her own ideas for projects proverbially beaten out of her by her domineering boss.

A chance encounter with a young girl with a wand and the naiveté to stand up to her leave Jordan miraculously waking up in the body of her younger self. She quickly finds that her usual behavior won’t be tolerated coming from a thirteen-year-old, most certainly not from April, who discovers her boss’ unfortunate predicament. A contrivance involving an agent from child protective services, made workable purely on the strength of how straight SNL alum Rachel Dratch plays her cameo, sends Jordan back to middle school as April has to cover for her at work.

Operating as a reversed-Big scenario, Little’s sensibilities lie much closer to kid- and family-friendly forced-positivity in tone than the big-hearted whimsy of that Tom Hanks classic. The jokes and scenarios play out mostly as expected, hinging on the strange ways Jordan’s adult life crashes in on her return to adolescence. One joke that lands particularly well, thanks in no small part to Marsai Martin’s comedic chops, involves Jordan constantly forgetting her appearance in visibly thirsting after her dreamy teacher. But the story continues with the familiar beats of finding herself an outcast and forced to join up with a group of young misfits, eventually learning that embarrassment happens and the very behavior that has protected her all these years only makes things worse for herself in the area of emotional connection. The script, co-written by director Tina Gordon from a concept developed by Martin herself, expresses these themes with trite, heavy-handed earnestness that serves more to move the plot along and state the message outright than to hang jokes on, and doesn’t particularly serve it’s actors well.

Tina Gordon

Regina Hall
Issa Rae
Marsai Martin

Screenplay by
Tina Gordon and
Tracy Oliver

In her first lead role outside of her acclaimed HBO show, Issa Rae carries most of the parts of the film that work, her performance fluent in hilariously ironic understatement. Rae gets her own lesson to work through, pushing her confidence to its limits in running the company in Jordan’s absence. The ticking clock of the film comes in the form of a client on the verge of bailing, which forces April to pitch her own ideas and present an assertive front to step into a more prominent leadership role.

Regina Hall takes a big old bite out of her limited screentime as the monster boss to end all monster bosses. It’s a big performance that, committed as it is, never fully takes hold as something that’s actually funny to watch. You mostly can’t wait to see her get her comeuppance, but even once it comes the film’s core conflict is so low-stakes and slight that it doesn’t seem worth the effort; her experience feels so minor and its resolution too easy that it slides off the mind’s surface. The glossy overlit sheen and awkward blocking in many of the scenes only lend it an even greater impression of plastic disposability. Another problem: the not-so-little runtime of nearly two hours for this standard comedy fluff. Now on who do I inflict a de-aging curse to learn the value of concision and not belaboring the point?

Little is currently playing in theaters everywhere