Retro Film Review: Little Man Tate (1991)

in film •  9 months ago  (edited)

One of the surest ways for the Hollywood actors to win the "Oscars" is playing the characters burdened with some terrible affliction. On the other hand, serious dramatic movies about the opposite - talented people - are quite rare. Little Man Tate, 1991 directorial debut by Jodie Foster is one of such films.

The movie deals with Fred Tate (played by Adam Hann-Byrd), eight-year old child prodigy who is blessed with high IQ and many talents like mathematics, music and painting. For Dede (played by Jodie Foster), his single mother and a cocktail waitress, Fred is normal child that is supposed to have normal childhood like everybody else. But, his intelligence has estranged him from the peers in school, and, finally, it brings attention of Dr. Jane Grierson (played by Diane Wiest), psychologist specialised for gifted children. She wants Fred to join her summer camp for gifted children. Dede reluctantly agrees, but soon the tension would erupt between her and Dr. Grierson, who wants Fred to continue with special education, away from his mother.

In many ways, Little Man Tate has a lot of autobiographic elements for Jodie Foster. She, same as the protagonist in the movie, was a child prodigy, becoming a huge film star before the age of twelve. But, unlike many other child stars, she was intelligent enough to know that stardom didn't last forever and she temporarily left Hollywood in order to finish proper education. Her return later led to the triumph, with two "Oscars" for The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs. Enjoying the great respect as one of the most mature stars in Hollywood, her directorial debut was universally praised by the critics. Perhaps, they went overboard with praises - film is good, but it is basically television drama material, with rather simplistic plot that deals with the struggle between the heart (childhood) and mind (adulthood). Scott Frank's script takes the side of heart, often portraying the intelligent children as obnoxious ("Math Magician", brilliantly played by P.J. Ochlan) or their mentors as emotional cripples who lack the ability to enjoy the life.

The acting, on the other hand is superb - Jodie Foster has a rather low key performance, overshadowed by young Adam Hann-Byrd and always reliable Dianne Wiest. Many of the actors in short, but effective scenes, manage to overcome the limitations of the weak script. Foster as director, on the other hand, is quite capable to make this film entertaining and touching despite its flaws. In its time, Foster was praised for her debut. Now she should be praised even more, because Good Will Hunting, more recent and more acclaimed film dealing with the same subject, really pales compared with Little Man Tate.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on June 11th 1999)

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