Directed by acclaimed actress Jodie Foster in her feature debut, LITTLE MAN TATE follows one dramatic year in the life of a child genius. While not ambitious or particularly accomplished, it is an earnest effort by a multifaceted talent.
Seven-year-old Fred Tate (Adam Hann-Byrd) paints murals in oils and watercolors, plays piano at competition level and solves mathematical equations with ease. Dede (Jodie Foster), his working-class mother, is all heart. She loves Fred dearly but realizes he needs more than she can provide. So she
turns him over to child psychologist Jane Grierson (Dianne Wiest) for further education. Jane's mind works in the opposite direction. She also loves Fred, in her own way, but his intellectual development is her primary concern.
Fred is a lonely child, adult in his intellectual level but still desperately in need of the love and emotional guidance that a mother offers. Yet he also needs the stimulation and exposure to the wealth of knowledge that can only be realized in a special environment. Torn between two worlds,
Fred must come to terms with the demands made upon him and his own personal needs. And the two women in his life must do the same.
The final scene shows both women sharing and caring for the boy. They realize that what Fred needs is love and understanding as well as intellectual stimulation, and they are both there to provide him with security, love and acceptance to steer him towards his adult life. They too benefit from
this awareness as they better understand themselves as well in their roles as mother and teacher.
Hann-Byrd sets just the right tone in his performance as the gifted child, and Foster is equally comfortable in her characterization of a working-class single parent whose lifestyle is loose and uninhibited. Wiest shows the other side of the coin in an expertly controlled performance.
In her first directorial turn, Jodie Foster has fashioned a film of merit that is interesting in both concept and content.
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