In honour of Little Man being nominated for seven Razzies (the same number as Basic Instinct II, which I had the pleasure of seeing on Tuesday night), On the Fence offers up a surprise exam on the Wayans brothers' latest instant classic, originally given in the National Post when the movie was released. Don't worry, the answers are included.
Hello class and welcome to the final exam for Ryerson University's African-American Cinema Seminar 412: Keenan Ivory Wayans' Little Man. Please keep your eyes on your own sheets or you will get an automatic failure and have to repeat the class. (Note: You will have to watch Little Man again if you repeat.)
Section A --
1. Describe the premise of Little Man without snorting in derision.
After a diamond heist goes awry, a pint-sized hood named Calvin (a CGI-shrunken Marlon Wayans) hides the bling he stole in the bag of a passing couple in order to evade the cops. To get the precious jewel back, he disguises himself as a baby and leaves himself on the couple's doorstep. (Where a passing dog urinates on him, but that's neither here nor there.)
As it happens, Darryl (Shawn Wayans), the male half of this middle-class Chicago couple, really wants to have a baby, but his wife Vanessa (Kerry Washington from Ray) just got a promotion at work and wants to wait. He convinces her that they should keep Calvin over the weekend until the can go to Child and Family Services on Monday. But the goons who hired Calvin to steal the diamond in the first place want their loot ...
2. What classic American film most obviously influenced Little Man?
The Merrie Melodies cartoon Baby Buggy Bunny. In this Chuck Jones-directed short written by Michael Maltese, midget gangster "Babyface" Finster loses his baby carriage full of stolen merchandise down Bugs Bunny's rabbit hole and must disguise himself as a tot to retrieve the loot. Released in 1954, a year before Rebel Without a Cause, Baby Buggy Bunny may have been the first 1950s film to tackle the hot-button issue of juvenile delinquency.
3. Name two things that distinguish Little Man from your typical low-brow American comedy.
One: The male protagonist Darryl actually yearns for the responsibilities of fatherhood. This is genuinely refreshing.
Two: The first father-son outing Darryl and baby Calvin go on is a trip to a professional hockey game. There, pint-sized Calvin drinks several baby-sized pints of beer, burps a lot and starts a brawl. But still: hockey!
4. Name three jokes in Little Man that got old a long time ago.
One: A dirty-mouthed old man. In this case Vanessa's father, who delivers such zingers as, "My sperm have fallen and I can't get up."
Two: A Barney-inspired children's character who gets beaten up.
Three: Rob Schneider, who cameos as a Barney-inspired children's entertainer.
Section B -- Multiple choice
1. Which of the following items hits Darryl in the crotch during Little Man? a) A T-ball bat; b) A toy rocket; c) A toy airplane; d) All of the above.
2. What is the highest grossing film ever directed by an African American? a) Do The Right Thing; b) Boyz N the Hood; c) Waiting to Exhale; d) Scary Movie.
Answer: D. Keenan Ivory Wayans' horror spoof, co-written with his brothers (like Little Man), earned US$260-million worldwide.
3. What Wayans films have been hits at the box office?
a) Scary Movie 2; b) White Chicks; c) Little Man; d) All of the above.
Answer: We won't know for sure until Monday, but let's assume D. [Note: This exam was given on the day of the film's release. Little Man went on to become the 52nd most successful film in the U.S. in 2006 (earning approx USD $56.6m at the box office), just a smidge behind Little Miss Sunshine at number 51.]
4. What can critics do about this? a) Write critical reviews that will discourage readers from seeing Little Man; b) Write positive reviews about clever, thoughtful independent films to encourage people to watch them instead;
c) Cry like a baby over the impotence of the modern film critic.
Section C -- Short Essay
1. Are there any reasons why anyone who isn't a teenage boy would actually want to see this film?
Well, in truth, it is somewhat funny to see Marlon Wayans' face on a little body. And, child-abuse and pedophilia humour aside, Little Man is actually a fairly moral movie, reflecting the strong family values of the Wayans clan and promoting the importance of fatherhood. Early in the film, we learn that Calvin turned to a life of crime partly because he didn't have a father growing up. Later, over a late-night snack of hot milk, Darryl pours his heart out to his surrogate son about his anxieties and hopes for his family. Does he have what it takes to be a father? Or will he end up abandoning his baby on someone else's porch, so to speak? "I would never abandon my child," Darryl decides.
Then, Darryl and Calvin realize that they are drinking breast milk and spit it all over the place.