Because of the story behind the story, it will be impossible not to root for “Little” and give it the benefit of the doubt long after the grace period of buckling down and officially declaring the film a bust.
With the film, 14-year-old “black-ish” star Marsai Martin made Hollywood as the youngest executive producer in history. And the film, in which she also stars, was a spin on “Big,” a film favorite of her mother’s starring Tom Hanks. She pitched the film to Kenya Barris, the showrunner for “black-ish” and teamed up with urban film hitmaker Will Packer to bring her idea to the big screen. The idea of it should actually be considered as a film premise of its own. Unfortunately, the execution of the film didn’t result in the black girl magic we all hoped for when we learned of the story behind “Little.”
As the title implies, screenwriters Tracy Oliver and Tina Gordon (who also directs the film) reverses the original film’s premise of the body swap and gives tech power boss Jordan Sanders the 13-year-old exterior that made her the target of bullies and her own insecurities.
Her experiences in that body changed the course of her life. She decided that she would beat the bullies to the punch by operating on offense for the rest of her life. By the time she is forced to live the nightmare of reliving the most challenging days of her youth, she embodies the personality of her middle school nemesis – to the tenth power. No one can escape the wrath of Jordan Sanders. Not neighbors, her employees, her boy toy. Not even the artificial intelligence application that powers her smart home is exempt.
Her assistant April bears the brunt of the abuse –which has become more intense as Sanders prepares for the pitch of her career as a successful tech entrepreneur.
“Little” crashes in its attempt to divert from the linear focus of the film that inspired it. Instead of it being all about Jordan – and develop a streamlined story that sees her redeem herself by reliving her past as a lesson on how to treat others – other people’s problems are poured into the pot to the point where the film almost feels like an after school special. And because there are so many things happening at once, there is a mad dash to resolve the issues of the sidebar storylines and character conflicts in “Little.”
It sounds silly to say so about a film within the body-swap comedy genre, but the film didn’t seem realistic as far as how over the top the adult Sanders was portrayed as well as some of the material that was never quite hashed out over the course of the film. The comic relief was painfully predictable – and some elements were clearly thrown in for the sake of the funny without consideration on how they would disrupt the film’s pace and flow.
Some may be surprised to hear it, but despite its truckload of flaws, “Little” still manages to be cute enough to sit through – well almost – mainly on the strength of the performances. All of the main players go above and beyond the call of duty to create a truly cohesive cast that create an emotional connection with the audience by way of their performances.
Regardless of how absurd it is, Regina Hall is fully committed to the over-the-top antics of the adult Jordan Sanders. Martin takes Hall’s performance and raises it one by convincingly taking the egomaniac, bossy, bully behavior in a pint-sized frame with boss diva language.
But Issa Rae is the real MVP of “Little.” Much like her character in the film, Rae makes the most of a bad situation by rising to make the most of the formulaic, predictable plot and more predictable humor by use of charm and sheer will. Her chemistry with newcomer Tone Bell should be kept in mind for an upcoming urban romantic comedy.
“Little” opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, April 12. The film is rated PG-13 with a run time of 109 minutes.