Cinema Dispatch: Little

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Little and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures

Directed by Tina Gordon

I don’t know about this one.  I got this trailer a few times and while it did have a few funny gags here and there, it seemed like only a step or two above Night School which I would conclusively say is damning with faint praise considering how I’m guessing only half of you even remember what that was.  Still!  It’s always a good idea to give a comedy NOT from a straight male perspective a chance because if nothing else it’s unlikely to be as toxic and mean spirited as say Daddy’s Home 2 or Fist Fight, and the LAST time we got a female centered update on a well-known comedy (this being a clear inversion of Tom Hank’s Big) was the eminently enjoyable What Men Want, so perhaps there’s something here that’s not shining through in the trailers!  Could this be a comedy classic in the making, or am I expecting too much from yet another cash grab to soak up a few bucks between Shazam and Avengers?  Let’s find out!!

Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) is a hard as nails (i.e. abusive) owner of a tech company that believes time not spent crunching is time wasted, and no one at the office likes her; least of all her assistant April (Issa Rae) who puts up with it because… well that’s what we ALL have to do when we have crappy jobs.  Jordan however messes with the wrong person one day as a young girl at the office calls her out for her attitude and uses her magic wand to put a curse on her.  Now I’d have preferred if she went up to her face and whispered the word “littler” to her, but in any case the magic seems to have taken effect as she wakes up the next day as her thirteen year old self (Marsai Martin).  Now fortunately for Jordan, April takes this whole situation rather well and agrees to help cover for her at work until they can get this fixed, but through a rather convoluted set of circumstances, Jordan has to be enrolled in school THAT VERY DAY OR ELSE APRIL WILL GET ARRESTED… for reasons.  Oh, and on top of that there’s a big pitch scheduled at the office in two days to try and keep the company’s most valuable client and April is SO not ready for that which means she has to learn to be a leader as Jordan learns to be… less of a jerk I guess?  Anyway, will Jordan find a way to return to her normal self before and even learn a valuable less at the same time?  Will April become the active go getter who can get things done in an economy that will otherwise chew her up and spit her out?  Wait, why does she need glasses when she’s little but not when she’s an adult?  Does she have contacts that no longer fit, or did the laser eye surgery somehow reverse itself?  DID HER BABY TEETH GROW BACK!?

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I mean there’s no reason this CAN’T also be a live action Detective Conan movie, right?

You ever see a movie where you like just about everything about it except the actual MOVIE parts?  Yeah, this is a film that needed like five or six more passes in the editing room to make it all salvageable which is such a shame because there is some brilliant stuff in here!  The actors are great, there are some clever moments throughout, and even if they don’t REALLY capitalize on it in a particularly clever way, there is a solid premise here from which to build an entertaining story about growing up and working through past trauma.  None of that can overcome just how deficient the film making is however as this is a woefully inept production that just beats you over the head with its own incompetence from beginning to end, and everyone involved here deserved WAY better than what ended up on the screen.

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“Just keep it cool and maybe we’ll get a TV deal out of this.”     “But it doesn’t make any sense!”     “I know, but if we don’t roll with it we’ll end up in a Tyler Perry movie.  Is THAT what you want!?”

Let’s start off with what works about this movie because while there’s PLENTY of bad to talk about, the good shines so brightly that it almost makes up for everything else.  Marsai Martin is a star in the making and she excels in every scene she’s in with a role that couldn’t have been easy to pull off for an actor that young.  The amount of life experience as well as world weariness that she has to get across in order to convincingly play a grown woman in a young girl’s body is a tall order and yet her timing is perfect, her poise is unflinching, and most impressive of all is just how well she can adapt to any given situation to mine it for comedy gold despite how disconnected it all feels when put together.  You’ll watch scenes that frankly don’t make any sense in the context of the greater story line, and yet on their own as isolated moments they work because she’s putting so much into it.  Issa Rae is similarly great in this too, though her role isn’t as demanding as Marsai Martin’s so she doesn’t quite impress in the same way even if she is a good foil for all the silliness here, and let’s not forget about Regina Hall who’s only in it for a short time but makes the most out of whatever material is given to her.  And that’s about it as far as the good!  As I said, some of it does work in bits and pieces, but other than the actors giving it their all there’s just not enough here to elevate the material any higher than decent which is a shame considering how much of it COULD have worked with a much tighter script and stronger film making.

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“You know what I love?  Stripping in the middle of someone else’s apartment before I even know if anyone is here or they’d be into that, and I’ve only been arrested three times for it!”

Something I’ve been working on recently and am retroactively considering a New Year’s resolution is to try and focus less on literal plot mechanics and logical issues in my reviews to instead try and focus on the deeper themes, meanings, and emotional reactions.  The reason is primarily to not give myself an easy out when trying to examine why I don’t like a movie which I would sometimes do if my reaction was viscerally negative enough (*cough* Annihilation *cough*) and in hindsight feels a bit nit-picky rather than informative.  That’s gonna be a bit of a challenge here though because one of the biggest problems I have with this movie is basically the scene to scene continuity as well as the internal logic of the film’s world.  There are SO many problems with this movie, but I think I’m gonna focus on one specific plotline to try and get the point across instead of spending the rest of this review ranting about my confusion.  So the reason Jordan turns into a thirteen year old girl is because a young girl used her magic wand and put a curse on her and said girl is the daughter of a guy who owns a food truck that stops by regularly; meaning that the goal we’re working towards (or at least the timer the characters need to run out while living these new lives) is finding that truck so they can find the girl and have her reverse the curse.  You would not BELIEVE how many unimaginably convoluted hoops this involves as there’s apparently NO WAY to figure out where this truck is at any given time which is apparently what you WANT when you run a business!  Repeat customers?  Being a dependable fixture in someone’s routine!?  PFTT!! Who needs that when you can have a route so convoluted that it requires MULTIPLE PEOPLE TO PUT IN DAYS OF RESEARCH TO FIND IT!!   I’m not even kidding her, they cannot find this food truck for days and they have interns at the office looking into it which for some reason is taking longer than a google search.  You’re telling me that this food truck doesn’t have a web presence?  Not even an entry on Yelp?  The truck seems to come around fairly often and April knows the owner well enough to ask about his daughter on occasion.  Does she not know their names?  Did she or anyone else never bother to get a business card?  Again, this is just one aspect of the laziness of the script that could have been easily rectified with a few script changes here and there.  Heck, a very simple overhaul that I can’t BELIEVE they didn’t go for was having Jordan go to the same school as the girl who turned her little and so she has to be friends with her in order to get her to reverse the curse.  Maybe help her with a talent contest like she did with those three random kids she became friends with!?  Was each subplot in this movie written by a different screenwriter who hated everyone else working on this film!?

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“You’re telling me that THIS is the best we can come up with!?”     “What the heck do you want me to do?  Josh won’t give me his part of the script!”     “JOSH!! IS SHE TELLING THE TRUTH!?”     “Yeah, but only because she wouldn’t let me borrow her notepad!”     “WE HAVE NOTEPADS IN THE OFFICE SUPPLY CLOSET!”     “But she got the last one with the purple cover!!”

Okay, but let’s try to take a step back and REALLY look at the problem here instead of just yelling about continuity.  So why does it bother me so much in this movie; especially when I concede that there are a lot of really funny scenes in here performed by exceptionally talented actors?  Ultimately, it’s that sense of laziness that I had talked about as its pervasive throughout the whole movie.  Not only does it have poorly written subplots, but some are dropped altogether like Jordan’s teacher who is very prominent in the movie yet only has two scenes in the first half and none in the second.  The movie can’t decide on a tone either as it has lots of sex jokes and alcohol jokes yet half of it takes place in a school with middle schoolers (which gives the whole thing this odd feeling of being a kids movie not made for kids) so it’s also lazy in that it feels like they never merged its two central premises together into something cohesive.  Editing isn’t great either as there are noticeable moments where hands change position during shot reverse shots, and even worse is that simple scene to scene continuity is chucked out the window frequently.  Jordan has to go to school and needs someone to drive her around is a major obstacle that she has to deal with, except when she can just cut class and hire someone to drive her and three other middle school kids around.  The movie sets a time limit of forty-eight hours, but characters talk like this situation has gone on much longer than it has; not to mention that having such an aggressively short amount of time to work with means that the character arcs and personal growth don’t have enough time to develop organically and they feel overly rushed.  It’s kind of a catch-22 situation where you’re either gonna stretch the suspension of disbelief by having things happen slow enough to develop but also for her identity to become more and more suspect to everyone there or for things to just speed by before too many questions are asked.  I can only speak for myself but it would have been MUCH easier to buy the fact that no one is asking for her social security number than for someone who has been a jerk for over twenty years learns how to not be a jerk by going to middle school for two days.

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“No birth certificate, no parents around, and we’re in the apartment of someone who has NOT been seen recently and who doesn’t have kids.  Frankly, I’ve seen worse.  You should hear the story about those Venture boys.”

It’s just a shame that the filmmakers didn’t seem interested in making this a great movie instead of an easy to produce theater filler.  THIS COULD HAVE BEEN ONE OF THOSE BETTER MOVIES, but whatever was needed to nurture this idea to its full potential was simply not in the cards and what we’re left with is too many talented actors trying to carry far too much of the filmmaker’s weight.  It’s not good enough for me to recommend seeing in theaters and it’s hardly even worth recommending on a home release, but it does have a great deal of talent in here and perhaps it’ll be worth checking out once Marsai Martin makes it big as a movie star if you’re curious about what else she’s been in.  Of course you’ll probably be better off watching the show she’s on right now Black-ish, but I’m pretty sure that’s a GOOD show while this is watching someone give a good performance in something that’s not giving her any help which is a lot more impressive!  It’s like the difference between giving a speech and giving a speech while defusing a bomb.  One’s impressive, but the other is going to be worth watching no matter which way it ends!

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