Little sees a well worn story given new life via a fizzing script and clever performances, despite suffering from a bloated middle act and an overriding air-of-inevitability.
Bullying made Jordan Sanders (firstly seen as Marsai Martin) yearn to be a grown up. She concluded that as an adult she could step away from childish name-calling, teenage hierarchies and thrive in her own right. Most importantly, she could be a boss, and never be in the same position again. Flash forward twenty-or-so years and Sanders (now played by Regina Hall) is the abrasive, volatile and single-minded boss of her own company.
Yet Jordan’s craving to be big has also seen her revert back to childhood in small ways. Prone to tantrums when things don’t go her way, it is often left to her doting assistant April (Issa Rae) to pick up the pieces. But when a frisson of magic makes Jordan a child once more, she has to learn the lessons of her past in the hope they’ll positively affect her future. Meanwhile, it’s left to April to develop in her own way by taking the helm of the precarious company while the boss is predisposed.
The parameters of the body-swap comedy are fairly well worn. From Big through to the recently released Shazam (and hey, Freaky Friday), there’s a wonderful wish fulfillment inherent in allowing a character to see their world through ‘different’ eyes. The perspective afforded by age reversal often leads the protagonist to realise that their adult selves lost something along the way, and in Little this is no different.
The lessons learned as the film wraps up are fairly predictable, but film does deliver a popping and laugh-heavy script. Regina Hall’s elder carnation of Jordan chews up the scenery with aplomb. Her sparky, hilarious put downs may not be from a conventional management guide, but they consistently hit the comedic mark. Issa Rae, too, gives a fun performance by allowing April to fully enjoy the new power dynamic which has blossomed between her and her newly-teenage boss.
The star of this particular show, though, is undoubtedly Marsai Martin. Tasked with adopting the outrageous mannerisms of her adult counterpart, Martin does a superb job. Frequently flitting between ‘acting’ as a child and adopting her ‘true’ late-thirties self, she gives a brilliant comedic turn which combines the confidence of a successful adult with the ebullience of a child.
The film provides consistent laughs, including a recurring character wonderfully labelled as ‘D Boy’, but does begin to flag in the middle section. A restaurant-based musical interlude feels slightly out of place, while the school setting Jordan finds herself in (again) feels a bit glib. Indeed, the film parses the superficiality of high-school popularity without delving particularly deeply.
Be this as it may, there’s a bittersweet note to Little’s comedy. For better and for worse, the film proves that we’re all a product of our childhood experiences. As a result, it does a good job of getting under the skin of Jordan by inferring that no amount of money or success can cover up these emotional foundations. It is to the film’s credit that it can attempt this emotional digging with wit, charm and a huge grin plastered across its face.