Little (2019) Review
BIG IDEAS, LITTLE VALUE
The idea of individuals “switch places” has been commonplace theme throughout the years of filmmaking. This can be a combination of trading lifestyles (Trading Places), a physical altering change (Big, 13 Going on 30, and Seventeen Again), or even a sort of switching bodies with another individual (Freaky Friday and Wish Upon a Star). As customary, this films usually project a character (or characters) that need to undergo a personal journey to reflect on their outlook towards life and their surroundings, which helps sees the world differently by the journey’s end. While it’s not exactly original idea, this used narrative McGuffin of cinematic storytelling usually offers a new spin to the tale; providing a certain type of freshness (or at least trying) to reinvent an old idea to be more relevant in today’s world. Universal Pictures and director Tina Gordon try their hand at this “switching places” narrative for the movie Little. Does this feature find its “kid at heart” message palpable or does it squander its potential?
Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) is the owner of a tech company, but has a horrible personality and behavior towards everyone around her. Hardening her heart to others since a poignant bully incident occurred when she was 14 years old, Jordan thrives on being rotten, including her assistant, April Williams (Issa Rae), who remains on the job with the hopes to present her idea for an app to her boss. During one of her many meltdowns involving the magic-loving daughter of a food truck vendor, Jordan is cursed by the child, who transforms the spoiled / bratty adult in her teenage self. Now, with a grown-up stuck in the body of a child, teenage Jordan (Marsai Martin) is forced to deal with her new reality, pulled away from all the comforts she enjoyed as an adult. With her company’s future on the line after their top client, a spoiled rich kid named Connor (Mikey Day), threatens to go to their competition, Jordan turns to April for help, with the pair working to keep a low profile on their “situation”, with April forced to become the boss (as well as searching for a way to reverse everything), while Jordan is sent to middle school; learning the reflection of bitterness with the youth of today.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Switch Places? Age changing? I don’t know to call those types of movies, but “switching places” is probably the best wording for it and something I probably would call them anyways. So, I’m gonna stick with that analogy terminology for them. Thus, these movies are normally are something commonplace within the family friendly environment arena; finding their narratives to be wholesome in showcasing what a person (or persons) lacks (i.e. humbleness or through a different point of view) and how their journey transforms them into something quite different from what they were before. Like I mentioned above, the idea isn’t exactly new or original, but it’s a proven idea to work within many different contexts and mediums throughout the years. Not just in movies, but also in TV shows, animated cartoons, and even literary novels.
Of course, this brings me back to talking about the film Little, a 2019 film that offers up this particular “switching places / age changing” idea within a mean-spirited woman who gets transformed into her younger early teenager version of herself in the process. This movie sort of went “under my radar” for quite some time as I really didn’t hear much about it online or even the feature’s movie trailer. I did eventually see the movie trailer for it and it looked somewhat familiar, but updating its material, with the film giving me a sort of Big or Seventeen Again type of vibe. Plus, the movie’s trailer looked to be quite funny by highlighting some amusing situations. So, I was down to see Little in theaters, but I did get busy with work and seeing more prominent movies release around that time, so it just kind of fell through the cracks of myself watching / reviewing it. Thankfully, I finally had the opportunity (and time) to watch Little and get my thoughts about the movie into a review post. What did I think of it? Despite having a tried and true premise (heart in the right place) and some solid lead performances, Little doesn’t really add much to the switching places narrative; forgetting creative innovation within its surreal romp. The idea is there, but forgets what to do with its potential.
Little is directed by Tina Gordon, whose previous directorial works includes the film Peeples, but is mostly known for her as a screenplay writer for movies such as Drumline, ATL, and What Men Want. Thus, as a sophomore directorial film, Gordon does a decent job in shaping the feature, project the right amount of humor and heart that a film like this needs to be. As I mentioned, the movie definitely has a Big and /or a 13 Going on 30 vibes within its premise, but allows the age reversing (i.e. similar to Seventeen Again) to provide a plenty of amusing moments throughout the feature, with Gordon staging plenty clashing contrast to many of the feature’s main characters through situations. This is perhaps where the movie shines the best as it is something that’s quite familiar, but can also act as a “double edge” sword aspect (more on that below). Still, Gordon does get her point across in providing several moments that noticeable work, especially those that surround the thematical message of “being true to yourself”. Additionally, Gordon definitely “updates” the material or rather meaning the feature’s time period setting by incorporating the usage of gender and race in making the feature’s main duo leads (i.e. Jordan and April), which certainly does speak volumes in today’s world.
The overall presentation of Little is pretty much “on the dot” with what the industry standard makes for feature films of this style of endeavor. Thus, overall “look and feel” of the movie is good, but nothing spectacularly or terribly bad. What I mean is that the main technical / visual areas that I usually mean (i.e. production design, set decorations, costumes, cinematography, etc.) are well-balanced and are pleasing to look at throughout the movie (no harm, no foul). Also, while the film’s score, which is done by composer Germaine Franco, is serviceable in getting the film’s melodical moments right, the feature does offer up some musical song selections that definitely add a fun flavor to the proceedings.
Unfortunately, despite a fun / empowering message, Little ends up being more of a bland motion picture, with plenty of criticism along the film’s journey. The most notable one that I felt while watching the movie was in its overall derivative feel from onset to conclusion. Yes, I praised the movie for “updating” the material, but that’s only slightly as Gordon does play up a lot of the commonly used tropes of the “switch places / age changing” comedy, but most feel a bit bland with not much to them. Another noticeable aspect of criticism that both Gordon’s direction and the movie’s script, which was penned by Gordon along with Tracy Oliver, fail to present is in how broad the feature is. That’s not to say “being broad” is a bad thing, but it has to give a bit focused narrative for it all to work properly. Unfortunately, Little struggles in that regard and certain side-stories and characteristic of narrative pieces fall to wayside; being presented as somewhat importance, but are left unfinished by the time the feature reaches its end. One example of this is in Jordan’s teacher and the flirtatious nature she has towards him. It’s amusing and fun, but doesn’t follow through and ends up being forgotten by the third act rolls around. That’s perhaps the larger concern with Little as the movie (as a whole) fails to deliver on all of its varying aspect in cohesive manner as well as providing enough entertainment value. As to be expected with these criticisms, the movie does face a certain formulaic nature, with plenty of predictable plot points that are telegraphed miles before reach; making the feature’s journey (again, while wholesome) not really super surprising or creative.
What a lot of this problems contribute in Little’s criticism is the simple fact the film isn’t quite memorable. It’s okay and getting its point across, but has little creative innovation to make it stand on its own cinematic merits. Thus, there’s a great sense of a derivate nature for majority of the film with a great emphasis on “been there, done that” motif while viewing the movie. This, of course, leads to the movie been quite unmemorable, with the same classic narrative plot twist that has been done in better scenarios. This perhaps stems from Gordon’s direction, which, while admirable in attempts, doesn’t bring much to the table; crafting Little to be bland and almost dated endeavor. This also conveys within its humor and the muddled state of it all. Like everything about this film, the idea of comedic levity is there, but never follows through; resulting in comedy bits that have a “hit or miss” type feel. To be honest, I felt that some of the movie’s funniest parts were just shown in the movie’s trailer; leaving a lot of the rest to be “touch and go” throughout. Thus, to wrap it all together, Little partly succeeds, but just ends up being a derivate and flimsy feature that struggles to honing in on what it wants to be.
The cast in Little perhaps saves (or rather elevates) some of the problematic areas that the feature faces, but even the acting talents selected for the various characters (both major and minor ones) can’t completely overcome the cookie cutter nature in both the movie’s story and its characters. Leading the charge (and who undoubtedly steals the spotlight in the movie) is actress Marsai Martin, who plays the 13-year-old teenager iteration of Jordan Sanders. Known for her roles in Fun Mom Dinner, Black-ish, and An American Girl Story: Melody 1963, Martin certainly (and almost effortlessly pulls off the character of Jordan in the movie, portraying the snarky attitude and lofty belittlement of an adult persona that’s trapped in a child’s body. Perhaps a great deal of the film’s comedy (the ones that work) come from Martin and how she delvers her lines and the situations her character is put into. Alongside Martin’s Jordan, actress Issa Rae takes center stage in Little as Jordan’s meekly assistant April Williams. Rae, known for her roles in The Hate U Give, Insecure, and A Bitter Line, is a great compliment to both the adult and teenage versions of Jordan, portraying the character as more subdued and fearful. However, Rae’s quick wit and humor does provide to be effective in the movie, with some funny bits in her delivery of lines.
Acting as the third main lead of the film is in the adult version of Jordan Sanders, who is played by actress Regina Hall (Girls Trip and The Hate U Give). While her performance in the film is mostly delegated to bookending the feature (as expected), Hall certainly does play the up cold / mean spirited nature of adult Jordan. Yes, it comes off as a bit cartoon-ish, but Hall does sell the character’s wildly mad tirades, which is what the movie is looking for in this adult character. Collectively, this trio anchors Little in a meaningful; finding each of these three African American actresses solid in their character portrayals. It’s just a shame that the movie can’t really craft something more ingeniously creativity for them to play around with. With a bit more sharpness and more layered presentation (both comedy and drama), Martin, Rae, and Hall could’ve made their characters hilariously fun.
The rest of the cast, including actor Justin Hartley (This is Us and A Bad Moms Christmas) as teenage Jordan’s hunky teacher Gary Marshall, actor Luke James (Black Nativity and Star) as adult Jordan’s handsome lover Trevor, actor Tone Bell (The Flash and Bad Judge) as Preston, actor Mikey Day (Saturday Night Live and Robot Chicken) as adult Jordan’s top client Connor, young actress Marley Taylor (Almost Christmas) as Stevie, and young actors JD McCrary (The Paynes and The Lion King), actress Thalia Tran (Tiny Feminist and Hotel Du Loone), and actor Tucker Meek (Union and Worth Fighting For) as trio of young outcasts (Isaac, Raina, and Devon that teenage Jordan befriends, make up the supporting players of Little. Unfortunately, most of these characters, though played some nice selection of actors and actresses, never really come into their own; finding these secondary / minor characters caricatures stereotypes of what we’ve seeing before in similar presentations. One or two get a moment in the spotlight, but most just end up being forgetful and wasted, which is a shame.
Jordan Sanders wakes up one morning and finds out she’s trapped within her 13-year-old self, while her assistant April Williams faces the challenges of dealing with her teen boss in the movie Little. Director Tina Gordon’s film takes the peculiar aging reversal premise and places a solid yet familiar reinforcement lessons for both kids and adult; thematically learning of remembering what was loss and the respect for who you are. While the film’s main leads (Martin, Rae, and Hill) deliver on their performances as well as the film’s tried and true message of being a kid and being true to oneself, the movie ends up being flimsy and derivate; finding a difficult to capture creative imagination within its surreal premise. Personally, this movie was just okay. Yes, it has its moments and its heart is definitely in the right place (plus I loved Martin and Rae’s performances in the film), but the movie struggles and ends up being a forgetful feature endeavor. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is maybe just a “Rent It” as it does offer up some wholesome fun within its situation, but not nearly cinematic entertainment to watch it over and over again. So…maybe I’ll add a “skip it” as well as it doesn’t offer much to some to even view it. In the end, despite a surreal “age changing” premise, Little comes off with big ideas and little value.
2.8 Out of 5 (Rent It / Skip It)
Released On: April 12th, 2019
Reviewed On: September 13th, 2019
Little is 109 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content