Hardened business mogul Jordan Sanders never fails to make other people’s lives miserable – especially her devoted, exhausted assistant April Williams. Jordan is equally feared in the boardroom and the bedroom, never letting up on her tough-as-nails persona, even when her boyfriend Preston begs her for emotional intimacy. Jordan finally gets a wake-up call when a little girl casts a spell on her, forcing her back to her 13-year old self. Will Jordan learn that bullying isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, or will she remain little indefinitely?
Jordan Sanders (played to perfection by Regina Hall) is a tech titan, already wealthy and successful by her mid-thirties with no signs of slowing down. Unfortunately, she rules her self-created world with an iron fist, “motivating” employees with threats and screams, like a shouty Miranda Priestly. What drives Jordan to treat everyone with no mercy? A childhood shaming at a middle school talent show, precipitated by a bully, cemented her worldview that the only way to win was to get the upper-hand first and never let go, no matter what the cost. It’s a lesson learned so early on that she never questions it – instead leaning into this mindset with the fervor of an Olympic athlete training for a gold medal.
Enter April Williams (the lovely Issa Rae), who has the unlucky position of being Jordan’s on-call assistant. (When we first meet April, she’s listening to an audiobook hilariously titled, So You Want to Slap Your Boss). April takes the brunt of Jordan’s nasty habits and nonstop work ethic with quiet, albeit annoyed, grace. But Jordan’s ire isn’t saved just for her employees – she also insults a young child (Marley Taylor as Stevie) who hangs out in front of Jordan’s company at her father’s doughnut truck. But to Jordan’s surprise, Stevie is one person who doesn’t back down in the face of Jordan’s temper. Instead Stevie elects to perform some “black girl magic” on Jordan, wishing her back to being “little.”
When Jordan wakes up the next day, she finds that Stevie’s words have had unintended consequences as she realizes she is now back to her 13-year old self (portrayed by Black-ish’s Marsai Martin, who also serves as the film’s Executive Producer). Even worse, thanks to a neighbor quickly calling Child Protective Services, she’s soon forced to re-enroll in the middle school where she was humiliated all those years ago.
Of course, the driven Jordan isn’t satisfied staying put in class (despite having a crush on her hot teacher, Mr. Marshall, played by Justin Hartley) – she also tries to make her presence known at her company, much to the confusion of her staff. As Jordan deals with the frustration of trying to be the boss in a 13-year old’s body, she increasingly leans on April to help navigate the growing chasm in her life as she grapples with the fact that she might remain little forever…
Little is the classic time-travel/body-switching trope made eternally popular by Big, 13 Going on 30, and Freaky Friday. The fun switch-up in this familiar plot device is the casting, headed by the aforementioned Regina Hall, Issa Rae, and Marsai Martin – all of whom sparkle in their co-headlining roles. The blueprint for Little was brought to producer Will Packer (Girl’s Trip, Think Like a Man, Night School, etc.) by Marsai Martin, in a meeting setup by Black-ish series creator Kenya Barris. The result of this idea coming to fruition makes Ms. Martin the youngest producer in film history – a stunning accomplishment for any age, and especially thrilling for a young black girl. In a world where so many struggle for recognition, Martin is already carving a path and opening doors, for herself and others.
Little is definitely a fun film – Regina Hall is entertainingly terrifying as adult Jordan and Marsai Martin will blow you away as the cranky entrepreneur trapped in a child’s body. But the real excitement is behind the scenes, with Packer, Barris, and Martin’s successes. (Packer made history with Girl’s Trip, Barris just signed a $100 million deal with Netflix, and Martin created her own job with the Little pitch.) In addition to all of this, the production also employed director Tina Gordon Chism (Drumline, ATL) and screenwriter Tracy Oliver (Girl’s Trip), both black women.
This is the kind of inclusion and diversity that deserves time on the big screen and serves as a beautiful lesson in lifting others up as you rise. This is what made the viewing experience all the richer. (A striking contrast to this year’s earlier time-travel/Groundhog-esque offering, Isn’t It Romantic, where Rebel Wilson so publicly and egregiously missed the mark. Wilson should take notes – this is how you can create your own roles in what is viewed as a marginalized market, for Wilson being her “plus-size,” without excluding others). This is power, and these are all careers you should follow closely.
As a film, Little is adorable, albeit slightly flawed. There are storylines that are completely dropped – for instance Justin Hartley’s hot teacher cameo disappears after a few scenes, as does Rachel Dratch’s Child Protective Services role. The movie also sags when the storyline delves a bit too much into the middle school end of things. (The children acting against Martin can’t keep up with her.)
And, of course, there are plot holes; no one should come to this expecting a perfect explanation for the what/how/whys of Jordan’s age-reversal. You will have a much better time if you embrace the willingness to suspend disbelief. Instead enjoy Regina, Issa, and Marsai’s all-in commitment to comedy and you will be assured a good time, big or little.
Little is uneven, but delightful overall. Adults will appreciate reflecting on life then and now, kids will laugh while getting a glimpse into the future, and comedy enthusiasts will be wowed by the lead actresses’ performances.
Little (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time tiny Jordan tries to boss someone around.
Take a Drink: for the outstanding outfits – little and big Jordan have some killer clothes!
Take a Drink: every time April sighs and suppresses herself to placate her boss.
Do a Shot: when April finally takes the reins!