Marsai Martin as 13-year-old Jordan Sanders with Issa Rae cast as April Williams, Jordan’s overworked assistant, in Little. Picture: Supplied

When boss from hell Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) wakes up one morning back in her 13-year-old body (Marsai Martin) in director Tina Gordon’s Little, the grown-up Jordan is forced to revisit painful moments of her adolescence.

Fed up with her boss, Jordan’s assistant, April Williams (Issa Rae), uses this situation to take charge at work and feed her supervisor a much-deserved dose of humility. A heart-warming allegory about the long-term effects of bullying on the psyche of a child and the adult she becomes, it’s a movie that is fun and carefree. 

Hall is in about a third of the movie. But with her textbook physical-comedy chops and the way she zeroes in on what an adult woman with the emotional maturity of a teenager would look and sound like, you wish she could be in the whole thing. 

Turns out it’s harder to make a movie where an adult reverts to childhood than the reverse. Little centres on different kinds of black women and girls and it quickly becomes clear just what a tall order phenom Marsai Martin, who executive produced the pic and pitched its original concept at age 10, has established. 

Playing a grown woman in a girl’s body, Marsai has to walk a sometimes fraught line between child and adult. Her character delivers the kind of precocious diabolic humour Marsai has become known for as Diane Johnson on ABC’s Black-ish. But at other times, the line between what a teen girl does and what an adult woman does is cringeworthy to watch. 

When the jokes land, they really land, but when they bomb, they really bomb. In many ways, Rae’s performance holds the film together. 

What works about Little easily surpasses what doesn’t. It’s one of an increasing number of movies with black casts that Hollywood is getting used to – movies that aren’t about the problems of blackness, but about the mundane existential ups and downs that people who happen to be black confront. 

Black girlhood is rarely explored with as much depth, care and well-intentioned humour on-screen as it is in Little. 

You leave the theatre with a sense of how hard it is to be a black girl who wants to escape the stereotypical boxes, and how liberating it can be when a grown woman gets to the place where she can finally exhale and accept.

IOL