Bodyswap comedies. The films that write themselves. The premises are so simple, they can often be frustrating before you’ve even seen the film. Boy becomes man, man becomes boy, girl becomes woman, daughter becomes mother, Ryan Reynolds becomes Jason Bateman, Ben Kingsley become Ryan Reynolds. The list goes on and on. Their appeal is undeniable, and there is always room for interesting stories, most notably stories where lessons can be learned. Most children wish to be older, and most adults wish to be younger. Little gives us a work obsessed, cruel boss of an IT company that handles apps; it’s never very specific. She’s loud, stubborn, and entitled, which of course all relates back to an incident as a child.
The early scenes are a bit of a slog to get through and the comedy is very broad in terms of content and delivery. Regina Hall is Jordan Sanders, a business woman so controlling her slippers must be set away from her bed at a precise distance by the housekeeper whose name she can’t remember. It’s not a grand start, and one that is highly reliant on the soundtrack constantly kicking in to set the tone. You could probably learn more from these characters by the song choice, than you can through the actual writing. That being said, it does try and focus on development through visuals, such as Issa Rae’s long suffering assistant, April, adjusting her degree to show her qualifications. With an uptight boss and a put upon assistant, the stage is set for both of them to learn valuable lessons in the realms of humility and confidence. When a young aspiring magician, Stevie (Marley Taylor), confronts Jordan regarding her behaviour, she casts a spell on her which works, leaving Jordan to awaken in the body of her 13 year old self (Marsai Martin).
Of course, the entire premise for the film will either succeed or fail based on the lead actor and their ability to assimilate their bodyswap counterpart. For films where children become adults, or adults become adults, the risk is lessened. When a child actor becomes Tom Hanks, you’re in pretty safe hands. But when your lead character becomes a child that can be a completely different story. Try hards, precociousness, or just a lack of confidence or authority are all worries when shrinking your lead. Which is why Marsai Martin is an absolute revelation. In simply an incredible performance, she captures the essence of a 38 year old woman, and when taking charge, you never once doubt her authority. Her comedic timing and interactions with cast elevate the film, keep it going, and save it from basic mediocrity. This is essential for many reasons, but also make scenes where she flirts with older males, charming, funny, and thankfully not creepy. In fact, she’s almost too good, being a lot more believable as an adult than her elder incarnation. Hall has a higher pitched, grating voice, and when she turns on the angry boss schtick, it is farcical. Even when banding together with a group of misfits in her middle school, you have no doubt that Little Jordan Sanders is a woman with life experience.
Martin is supported brilliantly by Rae, who has a likeable screen presence and treats Little Jordan as an adult. There are excellent shifts from when April sees Jordan as her boss, and others where she can manipulate the situation due to Jordan’s circumstances. The chemistry is so good that you feel uneasy about the encroaching return to status quo. The rest of the supporting cast fill their roles well, though nobody else has a lot of screentime. It’s a film that analyses friendships and work relationships, while also examining the importance of childlike goodwill, paired with adult strength and resilience. A message that may be routed in the subgenre, but one that’s always worth a listen.
Little isn’t breaking any new ground, and the direction of Tina Gordon keeps things simple. Full focus is on Martin, and as an executive producer and the person who pitched the idea for the film, that’s exactly where the focus should be. For the majority of the film she makes it an enjoyable family friendly romp, but when she’s absent, fatigue begins to set in. One can only wonder how Martin will evolve as an actress, as there can’t be too many roles that require her skills of playing someone 3 times her age. Let’s just hope more taxing offers are on their way. It may not be a comedic classic, but it also doesn’t play things too safe. It may be little, but big things could come from this.
Little review by Luke Ryan Baldock, April 2019.
Little is released in cinemas on 12th April 2019.