LITTLE: The Featured Duo

Who doesn’t love a good “person becomes the ‘wrong’ age due to magic/body swapping” movie? Sure, there have been some less than great ones over the years. The good ones, though, they last. BIG. 13 GOING ON 30. Both FREAKY FRIDAYs. Heck, I’ll even hear arguments on 17 AGAIN. The scene where Leslie Mann wrestles with her conscience and nostalgia alone sells that movie.

The latest entry in this subgenre, LITTLE, goes the 17 AGAIN route. Does it rival the best of its predecessors?

LITTLE: Young Jordan pantsuit style
Marsai Martin lives that pantsuit life in a scene from LITTLE. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The Idea Behind LITTLE

Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) seems to have the life. A tech millionaire with her own company, she has become everything she set out to be. Bullied as a child, she now commands fear and respect — mostly fear — wherever she strides. She, consciously, has become the Queen Bully to ensure that she never needs to feel like she did at 13 again.

One of her favorite targets, her assistant April Williams (Issa Rae), appears beloved by her co-workers, the donut truck guy and his daughter, and everyone else. Except Jordan, of course, who demands April both fix every aspect of her life and have zero agency or opinions.

After belittling the aforementioned donut truck owner’s daughter Stevie (Marley Taylor), the young girl puts a magic curse on Jordan for being mean. The next morning, she wakes up a 13-year-old (Marsai Martin) once more. Now she has to go back to school while April covers for her at work, all while their biggest client Connor (Mikey Day) has given them 48 hours to convince him not to take his business elsewhere. Plus, it turns out being a rich, successful adult in the body of an early adolescent does not prevent bullying, especially from a girl who looks ridiculously like Jordan’s chief torturer her first time around (Eva Carlton in a dual role as both the ’90s era and current bullies).

LITTLE: April and Little Jordan
Issa Rae and Marsai Martin celebrate in the movie LITTLE. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Writing LITTLE

For a 109-minute movie, LITTLE does not get a whole lot done. By splitting the narrative between a teen Jordan trying to survive middle school and April’s attempts to cover up what is happening with her boss, neither side gets particularly well developed. Jordan gains a trio of friends, Isaac (JD McCrary), Devon (Tucker Meek), and Raina (Thalia Tran), who are given one flaw a piece and little else. She eventually decides to help them not suffer like she did at their age but the decision comes out of the blue. Then the solution comes similarly easy. Then the undoing of the solution in favor of them just being themselves arrives with just as few complications. It all feels on autopilot.

The same goes for April’s narrative. She struggles in the first meeting but by the next one, she has complete control, her workmates sing her praises, and she handles a surprise drop-in by Connor with relative ease. Even the late-in-the-film fight she and Jordan inevitably engage in resolves in about eight minutes with neither side seemingly sweating the details.

I tend to encourage not overcomplicating a movie with too many explanations. However, the number of people who would be left suspicious by the sudden disappearance of teen Jordan — which include Child Protective Services, the school, and Jordan’s friend with benefits who thinks teen Jordan is actually adult Jordan’s secret daughter — is staggering. The fact that the movie wastes not one moment to square that particular circle seems like the kind of thing you could label a serious plot hole.

LITTLE: Adult Jordan
Regina Hall is not happy often in LITTLE. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Casting the Leads of LITTLE

Any discussion of the casting of LITTLE needs to begin with Marsai Martin. Regardless of my feelings about the rest of this movie, Martin is pitch perfect. She nails the fact that she is not just 13 but an adult with a 13-year-old’s body. She carries herself in a way that both matches Hall and shifts it slightly because one cannot strut in the body of a young teen the way one struts as an adult. It becomes less a mimicry of Hall’s adult version and more a smart reinvention necessitated by the age difference.

A particular highlight is her attempts to flirt with Mr. Marshall (Justin Hartley), her new teacher. She finds just the right pitch to sell the scene as a comedy without making it feel creepy or exploitative.

Hall as adult Jordan Sanders makes a decent cartoon of a boss. However, a cartoon as your lead makes it hard to sell her as someone worth cheering for. I did not feel particularly invested in her returning to adulthood because we never saw signs, pre-switch, that adult Jordan had redeemable qualities. Hall clearly nailed what was asked of her. I just wish they asked more because she can definitely deliver.

As noted above, Rae gets shorted by the split structure of the script. She is a great on-screen presence, but she is capable of a lot more than she is asked to do. All of her growth appears off camera and largely without any explanation or even recognition, save a line or two from Jordan.

Marsai Martin and Issa Rae take a tour of Martin’s new/old school in LITTLE. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Casting The Rest of the Callsheet

LITTLE feels like the story of talented actors being underused all over the place.

McCrae, Meek, and Tran feel honest and appealing as the outcast kids looking to “prove” themselves with their talent show appearance. Carlton as double bullies does make her two characters seem period appropriate in their bullying methods. She is not playing characters, per se, but I like that they were still different enough to not seem like literally the same person even if she looked identical.

Rachel Dratch ends up utterly wasted. Her turn as a Child Protective Services officer gives her basically one chance to be funny and then banishes her for the rest of the running time.

The rest of the employees at Jordan’s company maybe get a good line for every other person. They all seem talented and that only makes the office’s lack of personality more disappointing.

Day as the rich and clueless Connor does exactly what he is there to do. His one standout moment, a speech about how he had to borrow 10 million dollars from not just dad like he hoped but also his grandparents is good but is a non-factor after that.

That’s a Wrap!

LITTLE is not bad. Martin is simply too damn good as teen Jordan Sanders for that to be the case. It is sweet, it has a couple of good jokes, and it does not overstay its welcome. However, no one, save Martin, gets much by way of development to play. Moreover, the structure really does not help the story beats. It is a mild, pleasantly forgettable affair that should have, given the players involved, been so much more.

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