Regina Hall, check! Issa Rae, ok… … check. Marsai Martin, “Blackish”, check! Directed by Tina Gordon… … … shit!
Full disclaimer, I’m a proud black man that loves black representation on film and possibly expect a little more from its Black Comedies. I was engaging in a lively discussion about this the other day, and how as a critic, can we ever truly be entirely objective in our critique. Art in many forms is wildly subjective to the person or group creating it and to the audience its delivered to. I’ll do my best however to hold back my bias and review this film removing that element.
“Little” is the story of Jordan (Regina Hall), a stereotypical Hollywood caricature of a Black Woman in power, who wears designer clothes, lavish jewelry, and drives an impractical sports car. She runs her own tech firm wear she treats everyone around her like crap, just as she was treated when she was younger. Her cold exterior is not because of her determination to dispel any societal inadequacy to men and their presumed privilege, but in this movie its due to her parents horribly narrow world view that was impressed upon her after an accident she suffered in middle school.
People will have to take her seriously and respect her if she can be the boss, when she gets big.
Jordan takes to this to the head and has led her life being a boss in everything she does regardless of how other people feel about it or who gets hurt by it. One day her bossy nature leads her to an encounter with an angelic preteen who unknowingly casts a magical spell on her to make her little after Jordan was being mean to her. The spell doesn’t kick in until the next morning where Jordan wakes up back to her younger self and is thrust into a world she tried her hardest to escape. She pleads for the help of her hysterically mistreated assistant April, (Issa Rae) to step in and help her run things at work as her biggest client has given her 48 hours to pitch the next best gaming app or he walks to another firm.
With a crunch on time Jordan and April work together to balance Jordan being forced back to middle school by CPS, April in search of the courage to be a little boss herself, and the hunt for a donut truck that is the key to getting that little girl to undo what she did.
The concept was strong, and the cast feels right. So why doesn’t this movie work? For starters we employ the direction of the writer for a similar stinker earlier this year in “What Men Want”; Tina Gordon. The direction in that movie failed to show us what made Ali (Taraji P Henson) the protagonist, fundamentally flawed and how being thrust in a supernatural set of circumstances changes her for the better. While the writing in that movie failed to make us laugh at more than the gratuitous gender and gay jokes, Gordon learned a little and did add a full character arc to what Jordan in this film, that was missing in the other. Unfortunately, not much else was learned as many of the same cheap tropes of this sub-genre and below average film-making is still at work.
I said earlier this year that, “What Men Want” needed was an actor swap out of Taraji P Henson with Regina Hall. Regina’s timing, delivery, and presence in comedy works in spades throughout her career and no less in this film. The script wasn’t great in “Little,” but Regina’s performance, particularly in the first act mostly worked. Her timing was sharp, her voice and affectations were funny, and the jokes landed. Some of the jokes landed almost too well. I found myself straightening up and thinking the script was going to be flipped on me. Then, we got a bad injection of Mikey Day as a poor attempt at a rich self-entitled investor putting time clocks on things. Time clocks work. In screenwriting it’s a commonly used plot device to help usher the narrative along. When it’s not followed, the pacing issues and bad plot development becoming apparent.
April is the character we should as an audience latch on to more. Should be rooting for. Issa’s cauterization was good, but her dialogue didn’t seem to match her star power. It’s undeniable that Issa Rae is on fire and her brand of comedy may not be for everyone, or maybe just not my cup of tea, but I was longing for a comedy that was a bit edgier.
The tone of this film has issues. Regina and Issa’s performance were begging to be in a different film and often felt like they were tripping over themselves to stay inside of the Pg-13 sandbox it’s in. “Little Jordan” (Marsai Martin) wasn’t bad but was the most problematic in the film for me. She’s a middle-schooler with an adult chip on her shoulder out of touch with what kids go through today. The way her character was written didn’t do Marsai any favors and had a hard time straddling the mature jokes coming out of an adolescent mouth, but never really went for it. Her performance felt like an actor stuck on a diving board afraid to take the plunge. She wasn’t written or directed to dive and the kiddie pool was the obvious wrong play.
All the middle school melodrama felt dishonest and her kid friends were capable actors that but left you unimpressed. In the 2nd act of the film the approach dramatically didn’t work. You can’t really hold it against the film to what makes it in the trailer and marketing, but to have so many of the jokes play in the trailer it takes the funny out of the ones delivered the movie.
Several other poor decisions mount throughout the rest of the film. The script approaches the story with forced conflict and interactions in what feels like an outline and then written around it.
How do we get Issa and Marsai in a nonsensical musical number?
How can we get Jordan’s boyfriend to seductively dance toward this minor even though he’s 25ft away and can plainly see who’s’ in front of him?
All of the conflict in this film is contrived and hamstrung by bad writing choices. Here comes my bias, if you want to call it that. The” BMW” scene outside of the school which is in the trailer is the worst perpetrator. I can tell you, as a black man; it has never, and I mean never been referred to as a BMW (Black Mama Whoopin) when a black woman is disciplining her would be child outside in public. Gordon is supremely out of touch in several ways and that pointless scene highlights it. There were many other scenes in this film where the jokes and the commentary sound like someone who is too far removed from them to be properly making jokes about them.
The audio throughout the film is subdued and it’s unclear if that is a technical issue of the movie or a screening problem. However, I pointed out similar sound sync issues in other films of this sub-genre.
This film in a lot of the first act I found to be funny and had a good time. However, it commissions to many of the tropes and cheap jokes most of the other films in this sub-genre do. Likewise, the mediocre cinematography and sound, along with an objectively bad script fits right in. While there’s obviously an audience, as the movie has more than doubled its production budget; I wonder how long they are going to tolerate effortless haphazard primarily Black Ensemble Comedy films not to evolve. Not elevate their characters or the way they tell their stories?
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 5/10
Directors: Tina Gordon
Writer: Tracy Oliver, Tina Gordon
Starring: Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Marsai Martin
Run Time: 109 mins