Film Review: “Little” Never Makes It Big

Film poster: “Little”

Little (Tina Gordon Chism, 2019) 2 out of 4 stars.

Would that Little made a bigger splash. Instead, it sets its sights so low that when the comedy succeeds, it is almost in spite of the premise, rather than because of it. And yet, on paper the conceit sounds promising: successful, if obnoxious, business woman finds herself transformed into her younger, awkward self in order to learn important life lessons. It’s like Penny Marshall’s 1988 Big, only backwards. Interesting that in the space of just seven days, two films should open that both reference that iconic hit (the other being last week’s Shazam!, also flawed, but better than this). Perhaps three time’s the charm, and next Friday will bring a brilliant new adaptation. For now, we have this disappointing attempt.

It’s not all bad. For one, Regina Hall (Support the Girls), as lead character Jordan Sanders (the adult version), though given a mostly one-note part here, is always fun to watch. Even better, we get the marvelous Issa Rae (HBO’s Insecure) as Jordan’s assistant and the delightful Marsai Martin (ABC’s Black-ish) as little Jordan. Given the predominance of people of color in the narrative, the movie trumpets a reality of success and money beyond the onscreen normal of white men and their sidekicks, which should be celebrated. Sadly, once the plot is set in motion, much of the initial good will begins to spoil, though there are fresh spots among the sour patches (a poor-taste joke about transitioning notwithstanding).

Jordan is cruising for a comeuppance, her authoritarian ways a product of a bullied childhood (as we see in the opener), a youthful failure she is determined to forget. Along comes a new kid daring to practice magic on the doorstep of her gaming-app firm, and with one nasty comment too many, Jordan provokes a curse that shrinks her down to size. From there, the misadventures continue, eventually landing her in a middle school where she must navigate, once more, the perils of social stigma. Still, she gets to go home every night to her penthouse pad, and she has Rae’s April by her side to keep the business afloat, despite the fact that, inside, she remains the nasty boss that everyone hates. Until, that is, she undergoes a (weakly devised) catharsis, and is able to return to normal and set things right.

Issa Rae and Marsai Martin in LITTLE ©Universal Pictures

Writing the above, I see that the plot and its absurdity sound lovely. Unfortunately, too many details are sketched too thinly (or not sketched at all), unable to withstand the minutest of scrutinies. Sure, I laughed, and a few times out loud, but when I wasn’t laughing I was bored and annoyed, asking questions like, “How can it still be so early in the day when they’ve been up for hours? What happened to that character? Why does Jordan matter to her schoolmates when she’s only attended a few days of class?” And so on and so forth. Enjoyable in fits and starts, it too often gave me the actual fits. Let’s see what next week brings.

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic here at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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