A big Lit­tle star is born

Taranaki Daily News - - Weekend -

Lit­tle (PG, 109 mins) Di­rected by Tina Gor­don Re­viewed by

I★★★1⁄2

f you think your boss is bad, meet Jor­dan San­ders (Regina King).

While those out­side her in­no­va­tion com­pany know her as At­lanta’s tech em­press, her em­ploy­ees have less-kind de­scrip­tions of her.

Prone to put-downs, psy­cho­log­i­cal pres­sure and petu­lance, San­ders rules by fear. But while the valet gets plenty of vit­riol and the baris­tas are reg­u­larly be­rated, it’s her long­suf­fer­ing as­sis­tant April (Issa Rae) who faces the full force of her un­rea­son­able de­mands.

For three years, she’s put up with the 24/7 phone calls and dis­parag­ing re­marks, in the hope of gain­ing a pro­mo­tion – with­out barely a hint of that com­ing to fruition.

But when the com­pany’s big­gest client threat­ens to leave un­less he hears some ‘‘fresh voices’’, April sud­denly be­comes a cen­tral fig­ure. That’s be­cause San­ders’ lat­est rev­e­la­tion of her nasty streak is met with an un­usual re­sponse from the dough­nut guy’s daugh­ter. Un­leash­ing some ‘‘black girl magic’’, overnight the tween trans­forms San­ders back into the thing she loathes the most – her 13-year-old self.

As that premise and the ti­tle sug­gests, yes, this is very much in­spired by Tom Hanks’ 1988 fan­tasy Big. How­ever, the twist here is that, rather than hav­ing Jerry Maguire star King act like a kid, we have Black-ish’s Mar­sai Martin (at 14, Hol­ly­wood’s youngest ever ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on a ma­jor movie) in full pre­co­cious mode (or as April puts it, she has ‘‘fe­male Gary Cole­man disease’’).

That means that rather than an ‘‘ur­ban’’ ver­sion of 13 Go­ing On 30,

di­rec­tor and co-writer Tina Gor­don’s (joined here by Girls’ Trip scribe Tracy Oliver) com­edy feels closer to 1999 high school rom­com Never Been Kissed or Dwayne John­son ca­per Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence.

Frankly, that’s not only a re­lief, but ac­tu­ally be­comes a real hoot. Af­ter a tor­tu­ous start, Lit­tle blos­soms into life thanks to the un­likely pair­ing of Martin (rock­ing a look that can only be de­scribed as a more fash­ion­able, more fem­i­nine Steve Urkel and In­se­cure’s Rae. The duo (and Martin’s mag­nif­i­cent ’fro) de­liver two ter­rific per­for­mances and trans­form this into a fab­u­lous fe­male buddy com­edy, even managing to sub­vert the in­evitable mu­si­cal num­ber and makeover scene.

It’s true that it all even­tu­ally fol­lows the genre’s tropes, the ‘‘adult’’ jokes and themes that pep­per the story make it hard to know what age it’s suit­able for, and the anti-bul­ly­ing mes­sage is a lit­tle heavy handed, but it’s hard not to leave the cinema with­out a smile on your face and the knowl­edge that you might have just seen the birth of a new Hol­ly­wood star.

Mar­sai Martin cap­ti­vates in Lit­tle.

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