Body switch films have been a staple for a very long time. Whether it’s two people switching bodies (Freaky Friday, Vice-Versa) or a kid becoming an adult overnight (Big, 13 Going on 30), they’re popular because we can relate to what struggles may weigh upon us as we discover the world through a different lens. The idea of traveling in someone else’s shoes to allow this new perspective to change us in a meaningful way, not only physically, but emotionally, is something we’ve all pondered at some point in our lives. But, like any genre, these types of films don’t always work, either because the writing is flawed or, in the case of Little, the newest entry into the body-switch genre, the person afflicted with the magic to become someone new fails to grow in any meaningful way.
That is to say, Jordan Sanders (played as an adult by Regina Hall and a pre-teen by Marsai Martin) does change, but I didn’t buy one second of it. As a kid, Jordan is bullied in school and told by her parents that she just needs to grin and bear it until she’s an adult, when her life will change for the better. She of course takes that to mean that she can then become the bully. Getting past the fact that this conversation feels like one you might have with a five-year-old as opposed to a budding teenager, it all makes the setup for the film feel fabricated.
As an adult, Jordan is the owner of a large app developer who belittles and bullies her employees to the point you wonder why anyone puts up with her. One day, she has a run-in with a kid (Marley Taylor) who wishes that Jordan were as young as her. With the help of whatever mystical forces are at play, the next day, Jordan is back to her pre-teen self and must figure out how to be a better person in order to become the person she’s meant to be.
There are a few truly strong moments in the film, unfortunately, they don’t make up for the overall laziness of the script. I like where writers Tracy Oliver and Tina Gordon were trying to take the film, but the execution of their ideas fail on several levels. Take for example the moment Jordan finds out she has become twelve again.
Oliver and Gordon spend a large amount of time early on focusing on Jordan’s morning, in which she wakes up, puts on her slippers, berates her assistant and finds a cool outfit before finally heading down to the lobby of her lavish apartment to get her coffee and go to work in her fancy car. So why then, after transforming, would she go straight down to the lobby in her nightgown and slippers? I know Oliver and Gordon want to play out the scenarios of her going through her routine without realizing she was young, but with the personality they set up, it makes absolutely no sense that she wouldn’t have gotten dressed in something extremely fashionable, thus she would certainly have noticed the switch prior to leaving her apartment.
The rest of the film becomes the art of setup with no follow through and missed opportunities. When a social worker forces Jordan to enroll in school, she meets a hunky teacher played by Justin Hartley. She is smitten with him, leading to some awkward, but amusing banter between the two. However, once the scene is over, we never see that character again. There’s also a musical sequence that makes no sense within the context of the film.
There are only two plots I can point to that are in any way resolved. The first involves the pitch of a new app to Jordan’s top client (Mikey Day), which ends in a funny, unexpected way. The other is the main plot that’s supposed to help Jordan learn why she shouldn’t be so cruel, but the entire arc feels tacked on and unimportant. By making Jordan a kid again, it leaves the door wide open for her to find out what everyone truly thinks of her, but all it really does is become nothing more than a missed opportunity. The whole point of this type of film is for the protagonist to learn a valuable life lesson, and I don’t think Jordan does; at least not fully. She may say the words, but the reaction and the resolution are wholly unearned.
If there was one character that did find any growth it would have to be Jordan’s assistant, April (Issa Rae). The protagonist in every body-switch movie needs a great sidekick to help them through the change, and Rae does a beautiful job of filling those shoes. If Jordan wasn’t the one who became little, I would think this was supposed to be April’s story, as she is the only one that has a believable arc.
I guess what I’m saying is the story beats are all off. It’s a bit ironic that there are a couple of Saturday Night Live veterans filling out supporting roles, as the film is very sketchy, with five-minute setups that go nowhere before moving onto the next sketch. And despite the aggressive nature of the lead character, the film is extremely light with a bright and colorful decor, as if Punky Brewster puked Skittle dust all over everything. It is a fantasy after all and it shows in every corner of this far-too perfect aesthetic.
I have to give kudos to Martin for having the wherewithal, nerve and talent to pitch the idea to producer Kanye Barris. She is very talented and with age and experience, she is bound to have a long career ahead of her. Those who ultimately executed her idea, though, didn’t do her any favors with Little, a film with a solid foundation that feels like it was written by a twlve year-old, forcing it to quickly go off the rails with very little opportunity for redemption.
My Grade: B-
Despite a few political misrepresentations, The Best of Enemies does a terrific job discussing a topic in a way that our current society has been lacking for several years: with honest, respectful debate in which opposing viewpoints aren’t disregarded offhand and emotions are kept in check when making important decisions. A-
Though it paints itself as a modern-day Brontë story, After is a respectable, yet safe teen romance without anything new to say about love. B+
Next week, new movies include The Curse of La Llorona, Breakthrough and Penguins. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.