‘Little’: a Kinda Sappy, Mostly Crappy Black Girl Body-Switching Comedy
Hollywood is convinced that ladies love body-switching comedies. From Jodie Foster having a Freaky Friday to when Jennifer Garner was 13 Going on 30, grown-ass women and pubescent girls in Hollywood have been trading places for decades. So with classic 21st century insight, the same-but-different studio lemmings found a way to tweak the recipe. Change skin pigments.
“That’s for white people! ’Cause black people don’t have the time,” says Issa Rae. Oh snap!
LITTLE ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Tina Gordon
Written by: Tracy Oliver, Tina Gordon
Starring: Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Marsai Martin
Running time: 109min
Little is a bad movie with wonderful main actors, a fundamentally dumb story, and occasionally delightful dialogue. The dissonance is dizzying. Maybe it’s because the filmmakers have a very bad sense of originality but a pretty wonderful sense of humor. #Girlboss Regina Hall tees up the panicked work-conflict plot device with a head-slapping cut-and-paste boner like “You’re my biggest client!” But then Issa Rae snorts at a tweener’s failed mystical powers with the deliciously surreal dis, “She was trying to turn those white people into marshmallows. That’s black girl tragic.”
That kid’s totally unexplained Black Girl Magic works at least once, by the way, when she transforms 38-year-old queen bitch Jordan Sanders (Hall) into her miserable 13-year-old self (Marsai Martin). Now her abused and overworked assistant April (Rae) has to be her boss’s parental guardian, while Sanders has to relive the nightmare that is Middle School. Hilarity ensues, right? Sometimes yes, mostly no. At least the mismatched pair teach each other life lessons. Jordan learns to be humble. April learns to be confident. And the end credits roll over Chloe x Halle’s “Be Yourself.” Groan.
Because Little trades in Hallmark life lessons, it tries to be hip by leavening the cornball kumbaya with queasy raunch. When Martin realizes she has a hunky homeroom teacher, she bats her eyes at him like she wants to suck his cock. When her stud boyfriend pops up to deliver a surprise striptease, she happily leers. In both cases, the adult men shut it down once they realize the kid is ready to fuck. But it’s too late for audiences. We just watched the sexualization of a 13-year-old girl. Special! I guess mainstream comedies think it’s now edgy to show a child edging. It’s not.
If you can look past the lazy sentiment and shudder-worthy sex jokes, Little has its moments. Director/co-writer Tina Gordon maintains a candy-colored buoyancy throughout, and knows full well that her best asset is the charming chemistry among all her actors. Rae and Martin should pair up more often. Even the smaller roles deliver some great asides and zinger jibes.
But it’s tiresome and more than a little condescending to see a movie shrug off the hard work of earning its premise. Sanders is supposed to be a tech genius, since she’s a cover girl for Wired and Fast Company and presides over an airplane-hanger office space. But aside from some lip service to “apps” and developing an Alexa-for-blacks called “Homegirl,” she seems pretty stupid. And April is honestly so meek that it’s difficult to believe Sanders wouldn’t have fired her already.
Whatever. Nobody goes to a body-switch comedy for verisimilitude. At least Little is self-aware enough to mock its own clichés. “Didn’t you just hear me say I had emotional growth?” Sanders barks at one point. Exactly.