I had higher hopes for “Little” than the movie that wound up on the screen.
A “Big” flip with a “Black-ish” vibe, it’s built around Issa Rae, destined to be this year’s Tiffany Haddish breakout Black funnywoman thanks to her TV series, “Insecure,” and a movie with “Girls Trip” bloodlines.
But “Little” doesn’t um, measure up. The best comedies are aggressive, quick and close-up, in your face and flippant. “Little” has moments where director Tina Gordon (“Peeples”) gets this. But when your picture limps along the way this one does, you can’t blame everybody in the cast for coming off as “trying too hard.”
Regina Hall (“Girls Trip,” “The Hate U Give,””Support the Girls”) dials it up several notches as Jordan Sanders, our anti-heroine narrator.
She was a smart kid, and bullied for it. But her dad gave her some sound advice.
“Nobody bullies the boss.” Grow up, be a success and you’ll never be pushed around again. It’s just that Jordan took that several steps further. The bullied grew up to be the bully.
She may have a hot Atlanta tech company and a world-beating personal assistant of the “Alexa” variety called “Homegirl” (voiced with a little sass and a lot of flava by Tracee Ellis Ross) about to hit the market.
But she terrifies the valet who watches her BMW i8 supercar at her apartment. And rolling up to the office makes her minions scatter. “She’s here! TAKE COVER everyone!”
Issa Rae is her long-suffering non-digital assistant, April, who copes with a 24/7 beck-and-call job by listening to the audiobook “So You Want to Slap Your Boss” as she bicycles to work.
April makes eyes at every man she meets, gives her name as “April, A-as-in-AVAILABLE” and has no time for office romance or any other kind of romance because of that low paying job for a bullying boss.
Jordan keeps her booty call (Luke James) at arm’s length (“D-boy” is his nickname on her phone), imperiously cuts in line at the coffee shop, shoves kids, insults neighbors, employees and others and insists she’s 38.
But she picks on the wrong little kid, one who waves a store-bought magic wand at her and wishes back to “my age.” Jordan wakes up 13, rich but unable to prove who she is or assert herself in her usual manner.
The out-of-control hair, peers who pick on her, she’s back in her middle school misery, played now by Marsai Martin, one of the kids in TV’s “Black-ish.”
April, who has app ideas of her own, is forced to work for a child, but flips the script on the power trip because Jordan can’t return to the office as herself and close the Big Deal (with Mikey Day as a jerky entrepreneur), drive or frighten people or sleep with Trevor any more.
A social worker (Rachel Dratch) insists the kid enroll in school, and that’s kind of the last straw — for Jordan, who resists, and for April, who has had enough of this child “embarrassing me in front of these white people.”
Her solution? A “BMW situation — Black mama whipping.”
“SPANK your kids!”
Tracy Oliver, who scripted “Girls Trip,” co-wrote this with director Gordon, and what they were up against is stark and obvious if you remember “Big.”
A child gaping in wonder at the adult world, reveling in the new power and open doors life offers when you’re “Big” is a LOT different from an adult going back and re-living childhood.
Jordan needs her glass or three of rosé.
“Just a couple of sips to take the edge off.”
Yeah, a kid saying that is funny. But the movie’s most trangressive moments — and comedy is supposed to be transgressive — have young Miss Martin coming on to Jordan’s side piece, or her new teacher (Justin Hartley). A 13 year-old making “bedroom eyes” is funny for a second, icky every second after that.
And Martin is fine in an ensemble sitcom, but not really up to carrying her third of a Major Motion Picture. She doesn’t have the chops yet.
Hall works the aggressive-and-mean comic angle hard. But “Little” misses Issa Rae every second she’s not on screen. She’s flippant and funny and as on her TV show, a veritable dictionary of up-to-the-minute Black slang, fashion, mores and attitudes.
Here, she scores the occasion laugh with a line, calling the kid “Chocolate Hogwart,” but has to make do with a lot of mugging for the camera. When she mouths “Bitch” at bossy boss, it’s worth a giggle. There are too few moments like that.
And all the Return to Middle School scenes are lame and stop the movie in its tracks.
Funny people –and a lively hip hop and R &B soundtrack — can cover for a lot of screen comedy sins. But in this one, the sins aren’t “Little” and the players too hampered by script and direction to put out the dumpster fire this very nearly is.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some suggestive content
Cast: Issa Rae, Regina Hall, Marsai Martin, Rachel Dratch, Mikey Day, Justin Hartley, Eva Carlton with Tracee Ellis Ross as the voice of “Homegirl”
Credits:Directed by Tina Gordon, script by and Tina Gordon and Tracy Oliver. A Universal release.
Running time: 1:48