There’s no denying that Little is, well, little more than a modern-day version of Big, just in reverse. You can almost sense how derivative and contrived it’s going to be, right down to the “be yourself” message. So why then is it still worth your time?
Committing to its familiar premise (Freaky Friday and Suddenly 30 also say hello) but overcoming it with wit and heart, Little‘s enjoyment factor is born from the dedication of its reliable cast who take the expected material and elevate it beyond supposition.
The “little” of the title is 13-year-old Jordan Sanders (Marsai Martin) who, thanks to some timely (and unexplained, but just go with it) magic, wakes up not as her fully grown self (Regina Hall). The opening moments of Tina Gordon’s fantasy comedy introduce us to Jordan as the tough-as-nails, no BS, almost cartoonishly abrasive head of a tech company who berates and belittles everyone around her. She’s perfect fodder for someone who needs to be taken down a peg or two, so, naturally, in her quest to cease being little, she has to do some serious growing.
Hall embraces Jordan’s tenacity with a comedic fire that, really, comes as no surprise given her strength as a genre performer; her previous work under producer Will Packer (About Last Night, Girls Trip) further proof of her talent. Similarly, Issa Rae, playing Jordan’s long-suffering assistant April, evokes a charm and affability that we instantly connect with, and not just because she starts her morning listening to an audio book entitled “So, you want to slap your boss?”
Unsurprisingly though, Little‘s largest asset is young Martin who’s a revelatory performer in every sense of the word. When Hall hands her the reins of her outlandish character, Martin runs with it with gleeful abandon; her “side eye” and “Mm-hm” scepticism are truly beautiful things to witness. Similar to how Tom Hanks was the heart we embraced in Big, Martin is this film’s equivalent, even if her character is initially frustrating in all her self-entitlement.
The genre trappings are all there throughout Little‘s 109 minute running time, but the by-the-numbers direction and occasional plotting missteps (there’s a light musical number that, amusing as it is, feels like it comes out of nowhere) aren’t strong enough to derail Rae and Martin’s consistently amusing two-woman show which may not break new ground thematically, but as a female-led major studio comedy (the film’s director, writer, and Martin herself as an executive producer – the youngest ever to hold that title on a major production – are all women of colour) it shatters the glass ceiling with a genuine sass that’s sorely been missing from comedy features as of late.