THE CN+R FILM REVIEW

Erratic, padded 'Little' has mild chuckles, but very little else to offer

BY NEIL MORRIS, CN+R Film Critic
Posted 4/13/19

There’s one good reason to see “Little”: Marsai Martin. The “Black-ish” star becomes the youngest person to earn a Hollywood producing credit for conceiving this inverse …

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THE CN+R FILM REVIEW

Erratic, padded 'Little' has mild chuckles, but very little else to offer

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Marsai Martin stars as the teenage reincarnation of high-strung boss-from-hell in 'Little'
Marsai Martin stars as the teenage reincarnation of high-strung boss-from-hell in 'Little'
Posted

There’s one good reason to see “Little”: Marsai Martin. The “Black-ish” star becomes the youngest person to earn a Hollywood producing credit for conceiving this inverse “Big” — it’s actually a mirror image of the Zac Efron vehicle “17 Again,” but if you’re pitching a film, ‘tis better to reference Tom Hanks. As the teenage reincarnation of high-strung boss-from-hell Jordan Sanders (played as a thirty-something adult by Regina Hall), Martin owns her every scene, nimbly navigating a variety of age-centric settings with gusto and aplomb.

Otherwise, “Little” has little going for it. Saddled by inconsistent writing and erratic editing, it’s fitting that a film about a woman re-discovering herself through a child’s eyes suffers from an identity crisis.

The fastidious Jordan was teased in middle school, and that taunting paved the way for her to become a fastidious adult who constantly, cartoonishly insults everyone around her, from the valet driver to baristas, from her employees to her long-suffering personal assistant, April (Issa Rae). Jobs are clearly scarce, since April et al. endure Jordan’s cruelty instead of taking a walk, even as Jordan’s tech company is on the brink of losing their biggest customer.

When Jordan berates a child ice cream worker, the little girl (using powers that remain baffling even by movie fantasy standards) casts a curse wishing Jordan to become a youngster again. The next morning, Hall awakes as Martin, the reprise of Jordan’s dorky, four-eyed, stringy-haired middle school self. The only characteristic that remains intact is Jordan’s obnoxious, autocratic attitude, which doesn’t carry quite the same venom when spouted from a 13-year-old body.

“Little” is an hour-long premise (at most) stretched over 109 minutes, which means a whole lot of padding. The chief example is an impromptu karaoke moment at a fancy restaurant in which Jordan and April sing Mary J. Blige's “I'm Going Down” into breadsticks, a scene that drags on without any discernible lead-in or purpose. The film’s fundamental flaw is that, even as a teenager, Jordan is so utterly unlikeable that her inevitable redemption is both unbelievable and unacceptable. It’s never apparent she morphs into becomes a nice person, and frankly, the moral hole she digs for herself is so deep that we don’t really care if she learns any life lessons. That leaves it for Rae and the rest of the supporting cast to carry the audience along. But, both Martin and Jordan’s character such the air out of every scene, leaving Rae, a capable foil, without an opening to shine.

Writer-director Tina Gordon doesn’t pick a lane. Instead, the pint-sized Jordan is tasked with reclaiming her workplace, fixing her relationship with April, sussing out her romance with adult Jordan’s boy-toy Trevor (Luke James), and the de rigeur back-to-school hijinks, which include befriended the nerdy outcasts and showing up the mean girls. Jordan and April also make goo-goo eyes at Jordan’s hunky teacher (Justin Hartley, “This Is Us”), a gag that lasts no longer than a single scene before he disappears.

It’s honestly unclear what has changed by the end of “Little,” other than the advancement of Martin’s acting career. Despite a female, African-American lead cast, the film does little to subvert prejudices, castigate workplace white privilege, or any host of other angles the screenplay could have taken. Instead, it’s mild chuckles, awkward pacing, and a couple of squirmy scenes when young Jordan flirts with older men. “Little” is a mess, and little else.

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