What am I to do with Little? On one hand we are faced with one of the worst movies of the year, and a shameless one at that. And on the other hand, we have a movie that was spearheaded and produced by its 14-year-old star, which is undoubtedly impressive. Deary me…
According to production notes, teen actress Marsai Martin conceived the film when she was 10 years old. She had seen Big starring Tom Hanks and was inspired to tell that story with a cheeky gender reversal. She was starring in the television series Black-ish at the time and pitched the idea to her producer, Kenya Barris. He liked the idea and four years later we have Little – in more ways than one.
Regina Hall plays Jordan Sanders, a successful and mean-spirited tech mogul who has a hex placed upon her and wakes up one morning in the body of her 13-year-old self. She confides in her personal assistant, April (Issa Rae), and together they must fumble their way to reversing the jinx. In the meantime, April assumes CEO duties while Jordan is forced back into high school by child protection services. And so it is, a run-of-the-mill movie that serves as a carbon copy of so many predecessors. We are slapped with the typical face-to-mirror double takes, mistaken identities, revelations of personal truths and all the other tropes you might expect.
When you reach the bottom of this review you will find a generous two-star rating, and those two stars are given purely to Martin, who is very clearly an emerging talent to keep tabs on. She is exceptional as the pint-sized embodiment of Regina Hall’s 40-something persona, and delivers an outstanding performance. In fact, she is so good that watching her on screen provides an easy distraction from the shambles that surrounds her. This kid hones in on adulthood better than I’ve ever seen on screen before, which is a massive compliment considering the numerous Big-esque flicks that have come and gone throughout the years. Make no mistake, she is a revelation and lights up the screen.
But being realistic, I cannot feign praise beyond the Martin-factor. Little is embarrassingly bad. From the very blatant and uninspired title, to one of the worse performances I have seen in many years, it is simply awful. Regina Hall takes exaggeration to the extreme and turns the ‘overdo’ level to eleven. I was thankful for her role being relegated to the movie’s bookends, because her entire screen time is spent screaming and doubling down on the comedy. If she’s not yelling directly into people’s faces or spurting insults ad-nauseum, she’s overplaying every other aspect of her character traits as though she were leading a pantomime. Issa Rae gives a more subtle performance as the mild-mannered assistant, and Justin Hartley (Smallville) adds very little – aside from his looks – as the handsome school teacher.
Perhaps you think that I am being unfair and that I am not considering the movie’s target audience, to which I would ask, “Who the heck is the target audience?” The poster treatment and marketing campaign suggests that Little is being aimed towards a family demographic, and yet the movie itself is peppered with all sorts of inappropriate material. From discussions about women’s dusty private parts, to sexual advances by a 13 year old towards grown men. The adult content is considerable (although granted, not necessarily explicit) and will have plenty of unsuspecting parents wondering whether it was a good idea for family-movie night. If parents and guardians are willing to disregard my disparaging review and take little ones, I would recommend eyeing the film’s surprising PG Australian rating with caution – it should be an easy M.
Little is a terrible movie with an exceptional lead performance. Marsai Martin is insanely talented, beautiful and very charismatic, and watching her inevitable career unfold is an exciting prospect. She alone makes this movie bearable and for the very fact that she conceived and produced a feature length film, the film (rather, SHE) manages to wrangle two stars.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★☆☆☆
‘Little’ is in Australian cinemas from April 11 and US cinemas from April 12.