The Dallas Morning News

A big presence in ‘Little’

Plano native Marsai Martin’s charismati­c performanc­e fills the screen

- By KATIE WALSH

Ever heard of “Black Girl Magic”? That’s Plano native Marsai Martin in a nutshell. The 14-year-old Black-ish star pitched and produced Little ,in which she stars. And quite the team of powerful black women helped her make this reverse Big, including co-writer and director Tina Gordon,

co-writer Tracy Oliver and co-stars Regina Hall and Issa Rae. But Martin is what makes Little fill up the entire screen, through the sheer force of her charisma.

This twist on the beloved Tom Hanks vehicle plays on the same notion that it’s funny to watch an adult actor play a kid (see also: Shazam!). But it’s absolutely hilarious to watch a Martin play a brash boss lady with a taste for the finer things in life. The vicious tech mogul Jordan Sanders is played with aplomb by both Martin and Hall in a pair of performanc­es that fit together seamlessly. It’s amazing to see how Martin so easily delivers eye-rolls and verbal roasts like the most mature of actresses. It’s all

anyone can do to keep up with her.

Jordan’s foil/victim/nemesis is her hip assistant April (Rae), whom she terrorizes at every turn. But when she finds herself on the receiving end of a toy magic wand and a wish she were little, Jordan wakes up in her 13-yearold body and needs April in a new way. Her assistant relishes her new power as Jordan’s de facto guardian for appearance­s, which involves enrolling Jordan in middle school, the site of her life’s worst trauma. After a brutal, public humiliatio­n, Jordan vowed to never let anyone hurt her again, so the walls went up and she hurt people before they hurt her.

It’s in middle school where she’ll have to make peace with the unabashed and vulnerable little kid she once was to truly learn the lessons required of the experience.

Little is essentiall­y a one-joke movie, but Martin is so charming as a mini tyrant that it gives the joke legs. She has great chemistry with Rae, whose April is at once baffled and gleeful at the state of her boss. Rae modulates April’s personalit­y over her people-pleasing and nervousnes­s, allowing her wild, aggressive side to come out in a rush that even seems to surprise her. April and Jordan have a zippy, smart and sassy rapport. Oliver and Gordon’s script is bold and daring, and it doesn’t pull any punches.

The plot is predictabl­e but occasional­ly clunky, and some moments seem reverse-engineered not to serve the story but to give Martin a chance to play, like an inspired but inexplicab­le lip-sync to Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Goin’ Down” in a posh restaurant. The plot serves more as a foundation to showcase Martin and Rae as movie stars — and they ably rise to the occasion.

The message itself is poignant, and never gets lost in the antics or humor. To truly love and accept yourself and connect with others, you have to love and accept all the parts of yourself, including the dorky, bullied 13-yearold. We could all stand to remember and love who we were at our smallest moments, because even our little selves deserve love too.

 ?? Eli Joshua Adé/universal Studios ?? Black-ish star Marsai Martin plays a brash boss lady with a taste for the finer things in life who finds herself back in her 13-year-old body.
Eli Joshua Adé/universal Studios Black-ish star Marsai Martin plays a brash boss lady with a taste for the finer things in life who finds herself back in her 13-year-old body.

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