Originally posted Tuesday, April 9, 2019 by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
The standard bearer of body swap movies is Tom Hanks’ 1988 comedy “Big,” which is funny, endearing and oddly uplifting.
Atlanta-based executive producer Will Packer created the film “Little” well aware of the over-sized shadow of “Big.” But he tried to get out from under that crowd favorite to carve out his own take, which is less nuanced and set in modern-day Atlanta. It comes out in theaters Friday, April 12.
Regina Hall - a go-to actress for Packer in films such as “Think Like a Man” and “Girls Trip” - stars as Jordan Sanders, a domineering, abusive Atlanta-based tech boss who makes the life of her employees and assistant April (Issa Rae of “Insecure” fame) miserable.
Bullied at age 13 for being different, Jordan built a tough exterior to ensure that would never happen again. In 2019, a child she insults places a hex on her so she becomes her 13 years old self again physically but retains all the knowledge (and fashion sense) of a 38 year old. Teen “Black-ish” star Marsai Martin, who pitched the idea of the film to Packer, plays the younger version with all-natural hair and over-sized glasses.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” said Packer, who gets pitched all the time. “”It was well thought out. She had scenes in her head and characters in her mind. It gave us enough of a foundation to build a movie.”
And so the comedy goes, with goofy corporal punishment in a school parking lot, spontaneous Mary J. Blige karaoke in a Four Seasons Hotel restaurant and an eighth-grade Jordan flirting with a weirded-out teacher played by “This is Us” star Justin Hartley.
Packer is proud of the film’s female-centric feel. There are three black women leads and a black female director Tina Gordon, who wrote screenplays for “ATL” and “What Men Want,” among others.
He said one of the key relationships in the movie is the one between Rae’s character April and Jordan. Once Jordan is forced into a child role she didn’t anticipate, she begins to comprehend how toxic her behavior has been and a genuine friendship blossoms between the two women.
“Issa has a skill set that is very natural,” Packer said. “She’s somebody who brings organic every-day woman. She doesn’t mind being self deprecating. It works well in this movie. April is deathly afraid of Jordan when she’s an adult. But when the tables are turned and she’s a little girl, April isn’t afraid to stand up to her in a funny way.”
“Little” was shot last summer in Atlanta over eight weeks while Martin was on hiatus from the ABC hit comedy “Black-ish.” Packer said he deliberately wanted to showcase the heart of Atlanta with shots of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the West Side, Five Points and Midtown. Jordan’s fancy loft was an actual penthouse in Buckhead with flattering views of the city skyline.
Packer’s track record has been impressive over the past 15 years: using modest budgets, he has been able to garner consistently profitable box-office performances.
In just the past two years, he’s created Taraji P. Henson’s “What Men Want” ($54.5 million domestic gross, $20 million budget), Kevin Hart’s “Night School” ($77.4 million domestic gross, $29 million budget) and Tiffany Haddish’s breakthrough “Girls Trip” ($115.2 million domestic gross, $19 million budget.)
“Little,” which opening in more than 2,600 theaters nationwide, is expected to do land in the black a well.
“The audience response has been positive from people who have seen it,” said Packer.
Packer has also jumped into TV, including a reality show (OWN’s “Ready to Love”), a docuseries (ID’s “The Atlanta Child Murders”) and an upcoming soapy OWN drama called “Ambitions,” featuring a potentially corruptible Atlanta mayor (Brian J. White) and his tough-as-nails wife (Robin Givens) along with her former friend and prosecutor played by Essence Atkins. “Ambitions” is set to debut in June.
He said “Ambitions” should not remind anybody of actual former mayor Kasim Reed. “He’s a buddy of mine,” Packer said, with a laugh. “I told him it has absolutely nothing to do with him!”
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