Published Apr 11, 2019"So you went to sleep big, and you woke up little? That's for white people!" Issa Rae's April tries to get a grip on the plot of Little by asking her suddenly childlike companion the question that the movie attempts to address — would the beloved 1988 Tom Hanks film Big be worth updating for a 2019 audience, and with a gender swap and a mostly black cast?
Written and directed by Tina Gordon, who recently addressed the same conundrum with this year's What Men Want — a black gender-swapped update to the now nearly 20-year-old Mel Gibson vehicle What Women Want, which as far as I know, is not considered a classic.
Little tells the story of Jordan Sanders (Blackish's Marsai Martin) a 13-year-old middle school student who gets bullied, so vows to one day become the bully by being the boss at her work. Fast-forward to present day, and an adult Jordan (Regina Hall) is a mean ol' boss at a technology firm. She pushes ahead in line at the coffee shop, screams at donuts, abuses valets, and inspires awe and terror in her staff, including assistant April, who seems to take the bulk of Jordan's abuse. When a magic loving pre-teen that Jordan refers to as a "chocolate Hogwart" curses her for yelling at April, she wakes up the next day in the body of her 13-year-old self — the bespectacled child from the beginning of the movie.
The main difference between Little and it's opposite namesake is that Big is a wish-fulfillment story that almost any kid can identify with. You wake up big and suddenly you have your own house, car, money, and bizarre love interests to navigate. In Little, the opposite happens. The main character goes to sleep rich and successful but wakes up with nothing, plus she has to go to school! You would be hard-pressed to find an adult who is pining to go back to middle school, but remain their present adult self trapped in a teenager's body.
Jordan is now navigating life as a 13-year-old with help from her beleaguered assistant April, who is now acting as her guardian. While being in school, she still has to run her extremely famous tech company, which only seems to develop "apps" for one client, an extremely douchey tech bro (Mikey Day), although it does have an elaborate campus and its own pop-up donut truck, which Jordan hates because of an irrational fear of carbs. April has her own app idea, but is too afraid to pitch it, even if it could save the company.
April's story is not exactly the most exciting thing. I thought in 2019 the window had closed for movies that revolve around a character pitching an idea for an iPhone app. Let's be honest, if it really was a great idea for an app, someone would be making millions on it instead of using it as motivation for a supporting character in a comedy film. When the app is finally revealed, it turns out to be a VR app that makes you "see life as a child." Ultimately, it just seems to make everything more colourful and adds graffiti to fences.
Tina Gordon's niche will probably keep selling tickets, but it wasn't for me. Despite being well-cast, well-acted, and relatively funny, there was something of the magic missing from this film. It's pretty hard to say that the concept of a body-swap comedy isn't believable, but what I mean is that, at the heart of these movies, there's a lesson for the main character to learn.
In this film, the characters are likeable but the payoff is lacking. Jordan got her revenge already by becoming the bully, and got rich and famous in the process. The lesson she needed to learn was just to appreciate her employees. When the child wizard finally returns Jordan to her adult body her big gift to the world is a party at work — with donuts!