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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 5.26%
Average: 5.26%
Pretty Bad: 10.53%
Total Crap: 5.26%

1 review, 13 user ratings

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Little Man Tate
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by DrChumley

"Moving, deliberate, un-pompous, and entirely delightful."
5 stars

I always cringe when I hear that another actor or actress will be directing a picture. The results are rarely spectacular. In fact, they are rarely watchable. Unfortunately, a background in acting does not establish an in-depth understanding of the process of storytelling through the medium of film. Every once in a great while, however, an actor-turned-director creates a deeply insightful piece of film that touches and inspires. Such is the case with the directorial debut of Jodie Foster, Little Man Tate.

The only child of a working-class mother, Fred Tate (Adam Hann-Byrd) is a seven-year-old genius with an in-depth understanding of mathematics, music, art, and science. He also struggles with loneliness, ulcers, and trying to care for his parentally inept mother (Foster). Intellectually heads and shoulders about his fellow second grade classmates, Fred is unchallenged and alone in his public school. Dr. Jane Grierson (Dianne Wiest) and her assistant Garth, (David Hyde Pierce) become aware of Fred and his special abilities and offer him the opportunity to participate in a national Oddessy of the Mind competition with students from Dr. Griersonís school for gifted children. On the trip, Jane marvels at Fredís seemingly unlimited mental prowess and decides to use him as the subject for a study and new book about child geniuses.

In order to participate in the study, Fred must leave his motherís care and live with Jane for a few months. Fred is soon thrust into a world in which he doesnít know how to cope. He is taking college quantum physics classes, stumbling through television interviews, and suffering through Janeís horribly inept matriarchy. He even makes friends with a campus layabout nearly twenty years his senior (Harry Conick, Jr.)

Screenwriter Scott Frank (Get Shorty) has created a gem rarely found in todayís Hollywood: a well-crafted script that focuses on character. While the dialogue is largely unmemorable, it seems as though every line was crafted with the ultimate intent of each character in mind. Itís the kind of script tailor-made for actors who want to direct.

Standing on the foundation of such a wonderful script, Foster has managed to put together a very impressive group of under-appreciated yet supremely talented actors. Newcomer Hann-Byrd does a remarkable job as the wooden, vulnerable little boy who worries about everything but doesnít yet know how to cope in a world that doesnít accept his differences. Fosterís performance as Fredís working-class mother being left behind in her sonís progression is achingly poignant. Weist is brilliant as the patronizing genius-mentor, Jane. Even jazzman Harry Conick, Jr., uses his Louisiana Drawl to great effect as a big-hearted, fun-loving career student.

The piano-based, jazz-inspired score by Mark Isham is truly a treat. Isham uses the piano (a running theme in the script as well) to enhance the lonely, melancholy feeling of the film without distracting from the story.

Perhaps what makes this film so effective however, is Fosterís ability to use the camera to show the internal monologues of these characters. She eschews fancy camerawork and special effects, opting instead for the static shots and low-key editing that showcase the abilities of these incredible actors. Foster understands how to evoke emotion in her viewers without resorting to clichť or manipulation. If Little Man Tate is any hint of Fosterís modus operandi, we can only hope that she will get many more chances behind the camera.

Is it worth seeing: Definitely. If youíve gotten tired of the Hollywood trend toward bigger and flashier, this is the film for you. Little Man Tate will never be a huge box office draw. Nevertheless, this quiet little film is intense and heart-rending. It will stay with you longer after youíve left the theatre.

Little Man Tate will never be a huge box office draw. Nevertheless, this quiet, little film is intense and heart-rending. It will stay with you long after youíve left the theatre.

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originally posted: 05/23/02 08:44:18
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User Comments

12/08/15 Anne Yes. Poignant and revealing. 4 stars
3/02/08 Pamela White shows a child prodigy is as hard to raise as a mentally challanged kid 5 stars
3/25/07 gerge mcguire it was bad 1 stars
12/04/05 Michael Another Boy Denied A Father: A Woman's Play Movie 2 stars
11/05/04 Abby Great film, and the camerawork is excelent by Jodie Foster. Good script, full of feelings. 5 stars
6/17/04 maria excelent film and I am using it as motivation to study gifted children education 5 stars
3/19/04 ancient Jodie skanks Typical infant prodigy cliches -- that they just want to be like "everyone else" 2 stars
2/25/04 john Ms Foster delivers a surprisingly involving and charming film - first rate! 5 stars
1/11/04 John Aster Habig awesome look at child prodigy 5 stars
4/12/03 Andrew Carden Passionate Film; Grand Direction By Foster; Wiest Is Wonderful. 5 stars
2/05/03 natasha_theobald affecting and intelligent -- great cast, compelling story 5 stars
5/24/02 Charles Tatum Surprisingly moving and entertaining 5 stars
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  18-Oct-1991 (PG)



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