In a cinematic world of seemingly endless sequels, superhero movies and reboots, it may seem like almost nothing emerging from Hollywood is original anymore. But the new movie “Little” is one of the most creatively clueless, utterly bankrupt ideas to come out of Tinseltown yet.
Ripping off one of the most beloved childhood comedies of all time, 1988’s Tom Hanks classic “Big,” “Little” follows the story of what happens when a high-powered African-American female executive named Jordan Sanders turns back to her nerdy-looking 14-year-old self (played by Marsai Martin). Rather than becoming big after making a wish, Jordan is forced into waking up as a child after upsetting a child magician, who wishes Jordan would turn young so that she can beat her up.
The movie opens with its only funny scene, a flashback to 25 years before, when the younger Jordan has an embarrassing mishap caused by a girl bully at a school talent show. Her parents cheer her up by saying that her brains will ensure she’s a winner as an adult, and Jordan vows quietly that she’ll be a bully to everyone around her.
And so it is that we are introduced to adult Jordan, who runs an app creation company with a staff she terrifies with her insane fits of rage. In fact, she’s a shrill witch to everyone around her from the moment she wakes up, particularly to her assistant April (Issa Rae).
She’s also engaged in an utterly stupid fling with a boytoy named Trevor (Luke James), who has no apparent purpose to his existence other than coming over to tear his clothes off nightly while dancing and flipping his way through her apartment en route to a booty call. Jordan’s high-strung, anger-fueled life is made more complicated when her top client Connor (Mikey Day) gives her just two days to come up with a new app that will wow him or lose his business entirely — a challenge made infinitely harder when she wakes up at age 14 the next morning.
When Jordan’s contentious neighbor sees her younger self entering her apartment, she calls in a DCFS agent (Rachel Dratch) to see what’s going on. April pretends to be Jordan’s mom and is ordered to enroll her in school, taking her back to the middle school she suffered at as a child, while she also takes over the day-to-day operations at the app company with Jordan instructing her via phone calls and texts.
In other hands, this might be a funny lark of a movie. But writer-director Tina Gordon Chism — whose prior films “Peeples” and “What Men Want” both earned solid B’s from me — has created an embarrassing train wreck here.
Out of all the characters — and there are many — only April comes off like a well-rounded, believable human being, and Issa Rae portrays her with a genuine charm that far surpasses anyone and anything else in the movie. Regina Hall’s screaming fits are totally one-note, but thankfully she disappears for most of the movie after the first half hour, leaving the utterly annoying Martin to take over in full spoiled-brat mode.
Everyone else in “Little” is written and performed like utter caricatures, as if amping up their histrionics will somehow make it more, rather than less, enjoyable. Story logic is utterly lacking as well, with what seems like at least five days and nights of events occurring in the film before Connor returns a day early to see the app he’s demanded. That means Connor showed up a day later, yet multiple days of events have clearly happened in the interim. If the filmmakers can’t even get a basic thing like the timeframe of their story to make sense, why should we as viewers not feel utterly insulted and reward them with our money?
But beyond the lack of logic, the annoying performances, and the unfunny dialogue and situations, there’s a gross and creepy aspect to part of “Little.” Trevor sneaks into Jordan’s apartment for one of his booty calls while unaware that the 14-year-old version and April are there instead.
He obliviously strips down more than usual despite the fact he’d have to be blind not to see that two people he’s not intending to dance for are his audience. When he realizes a child is watching him, he assumes young Jordan is adult Jordan’s secret daughter and he instantly vows to be a “good daddy” and win over older Jordan so they can be a family. He keeps coming back with toys for young Jordan and their hugs — with young Jordan trying to convey romantic feelings to him by accident — creates a creepy, pseudo-pedophilic vibe that’s hard to shake.
“Big” was rooted in the universal desire of children to be adults and have their way in life, and had a sympathetic loner of a kid making that leap. “Little” just has an awful person who stays awful as a child, only redeeming herself at the last possible moment for the sake of reaching an ending.
You might ask, could this really be so bad? Well, I’ll leave you with this: the large audience I saw this with at a free preview screening on Monday audibly laughed maybe five times in its 109-minute runtime, and literally no one applauded at the end of the screening. That is a first in my 10 years of reviewing over 100 movies a year. You’ve been warned. n
“Little” : F