The problem with basing a comedy around a wacky gimmick is that it tends to take over whatever else it is the movie is trying to do. It has to be pretty clever with the way it employs its central concept so the story is clear, the jokes are funny and it is able to go deeper than just its premise. Little, about a woman who transforms into her thirteen year old self overnight, checks those boxes fairly consistently. The plot is silly, yet easy to follow. The messages are occasionally forced, but still land okay. And the three leads are all quite good. There are certainly sequences and running gags that are lacking. However, overall, this is an enjoyable diversion.
When she was a kid, Jordan Sanders was bullied and made fun of. As an adult, she intentionally ran through everyone she could on her way to running her own business. They cannot bully her if she bullies them first. Now, she is powerful and feared, keeping those in her life at arm’s length due to how terrible she treats them. After angering a young, wannabe magician, she wakes up the next day as a kid. With the help of her assistant, she tries to figure out how to change back, maybe learning a lesson about being true to oneself along the way.
Little has some decent jokes, though I am unsure they would work as well as they do if it were not for who is delivering them. Regina Hall is the adult Jordan, a force of nature who will barrel over anyone to get what she wants. The rude, thoughtless boss is a cliché, but she makes it funnier than it has any right to be. She establishes Jordan so effectively it is easy to picture her when little Jordan is trying to assert herself.
The teenage Jordan is played by Marsai Martin. I have never seen her before (she costars on ABC’s Black-ish). I was absolutely blown away by her maturity and comic timing. Unlike last week’s Shazam!, where it was difficult to believe a teenager and an adult were playing the same character, I had no trouble buying in here. Martin captures Hall’s mannerisms perfectly, really selling the gag. It is a very funny performance of a child acting like a self-important adult.
As her put-upon assistant, Issa Rae is able to ground the absurdity. While she is the straight woman, she brings energy and charm to what could have been the dull sidekick. She gets her own character arc and makes the journey engaging. She has to be the likable one and she definitely delivers.
Little (103 minutes without the end credits) is an unoriginal story with a predictable destination. It treads no new ground, nor will it wow viewers with hilarious dialogue or thought-provoking social commentary. Not every movie has to try to be something unique. This one just wants to be a fun time. It has amusing performances and a script that gives them enough to work with while never getting in their way. I did not laugh out loud a lot, however I did smile a reasonable amount and generally enjoyed myself. It may not be a classic comedy, but it is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. 3¼ out of 5
Marsai Martin as Little Jordan Sanders
Issa Rae as April Williams
Regina Hall as Jordan Sanders
Tone Bell as Preston
Luke James as Trevor
Mikey Day as Connor
JD McCrary as Isaac
Tucker Meek as Devon
Thalia Tran as Raina
Directed by Tina Gordon Chism
Screenplay by Tina Gordon Chism and Tracy Oliver