Courtesy of Universal
In a new twist on the body swap genre, “Little” - the latest Will Packer-produced dud - has Regina Hall playing a snooty and annoying app mogul who made her way to the top of the business food chain, following events in 1993 that saw bullies in middle school make fun of her for being a brainiac (and it's the kind of bullying that ends up legitimately hurting her, like, broken legs and arms, and its cruelly played for laughs). Cut to present day where Jordan (Hall) is now the instigator, and completed her dream of “being the boss.” Even if that means testing the patience of her overworked employees, specifically her assistant April (the delightful Issa Rae), who is a graduate of Berkeley, and has big aspirations of selling her own app.
But for Jordan, none of that matters, and when a big named client (a douchey and cringeworthy performance from SNL’s one dimensional Mikey Day) threatens to leave her firm, it puts her company into overdrive. What happens next might look like it belongs on an SNL skit: where a snarky teen upset with Jordan over her behavior waves a magic wand and wishes her to be “little.” And, by some form of a magical touchstone, the next morning Jordan wakes up as her 13 year old self - with no real explanation - now played with poise and attitude by “Black-ish” standout Marsai Martin, who single handedly makes “Little” somewhat enjoyable.
Martin is a big talent, and when she’s on screen channeling her inner Regina Hall, it makes everyone small by comparison. Though you can imagine Rae’s surprise to see her boss has somehow been transplanted into a tween body, and with only two days before her company-saving pitch to the worse Lax bro on the planet, this might just be the biggest glo-down of the century.
Director Tina Gordon doesn’t throw much on screen in terms of cohesiveness, as “Little” feels pieced together like a fraught Subway train, with random intersections thrown in for posterity and not a-lot of purpose (much is made of Jordan’s drinking habits when she’s 13 then 38, and you’d think instead of being the bully, she would lead the charge against it). On the other hand, Martin brings so much weaponized comedy to all of her scenes that the movie can occasionally feel like it's going somewhere.
This happens once Jordan is forced to attend her old stomping ground that served as the burial site for her social status. Watching Jordan return to school and let her guard down to a group of outcasts (prepare for lots of awkward flossing) is welcoming, and the biggest laugh comes when Jordan forgets who she is and makes a move for her Hollister-looking teacher, and the filmmakers know how to maneuver away from anything that borders uncomfortable.
At this point, “Little” begins to fall into the normal troupes of a Will Packer produced comedy, and it doesn’t help that like “Night School” - this picture feels like a sitcom made without the laugh track (it also looks like it was shot on an I phone). I struggle to understand how bullies in this school system can seemingly get away with making fun of children with disabilities, nor can a student get sent to the hospital and no repercussions are brought on the attackers (at one point a character shouts: “What is wrong with this school?”) And I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, when characters (like Regina Hall’s older Jordan) scream and shout for no purpose, it’s severely unfunny.
But in the lens of Gordon and company (including Packer who, love him or hate him, turns out money makers for the studio) do think its funny and people keep showing up. The only salvation “Little” has are in the big personalities which Rae and Martin bring to the table, and it’s a shame their talent is squandered over material (and a message) that could use a sharper edge (considering most scenes have no real shape to them, and meaningful stakes never materialize).
When all is said and done, “Little” doesn’t end so much as it runs out of energy. It’s got the right ingredients, it just fails to use them to their full potential.