The incomparable Jodie Foster stars in and directs the film Little Man Tate has an emotional and imaginative vision revolving around the interaction of the three main characters and their important functions. Adam Hann-Byrd (Jumanji) makes his acting debut as the young boy genius named Fred who wants to be accepted by kids at his school.
In one of the beginning lines of the film he says, “All I want is someone to eat lunch with.” This line sums up the theme of the movie: Fred’s struggle for acceptance and the tone of the film that depicts Fred’s life drama. Jodie Foster plays Fred’s loving mother Dede, an insecure, emotional single parent afraid of losing Fred to Jane, well played by Dianne Wiest, who manages a special school for gifted children. David Hyde Pierce (TV’s Frasier) has a nice role as Jane’s assistant, Garth. Jane has good intentions, but mildly exploits Fred which unfortunately pushes him farther away from the normal life of a child his age.
Fred’s struggle for acceptance, the conflict between Dede and Jane, and Dede’s realization of Fred’s need for his mother are important events that focus the actions of the characters to Fred’s current dilemma. Fred attempts to find friendship by inviting his classmates to his birthday party, but his questionable friendship with the “Math Magician” represents his first successful step in this process. Fred and the “Math Magician find themselves in similar situations as Fred imitates and emulates the people he encounters, especially a piano loving college student named Eddie, played by the perfectly cast Harry Connick Jr., (Hope Floats).
The conflict between Jane and Dede dominates most of the film and diminishes Dede’s role in Fred’s life on an educational level. “I don’t even know you…why would I let you take him on a trip,” Dede states to Jane. But, Jane continues to push Dede and criticizes Dede’s choice to take Fred with her to Florida for the summer. “Fred just wants to be a normal happy kid,” Dede says as Jane protests, “Well, he’s not normal…and he’s certainly not happy.”
These arguments tell the audience that Fred and Dede should not be separated to further Fred’s opportunities. In his fragile emotional state, Fred cannot deal with being away from Dede in an intellectually simulating, but emotionally empty environment. Dede understands Fred’s desire to lead a normal, happy life, but Jane thinks otherwise. Fred eventually gets so confused because he is away from Dede so long that when a boy asks Fred if Jane is his mom Fred answers, “I don’t know.”
The key climax when Dede sees Fred on a television show pushes the plot to the point where Dede and Fred can no longer be apart. In this scene, Dede begins to watch Fred, but then must help a boy in trouble. This experience leaves Dede visibly shaking as she realizes that she must be there for Fred just as she was to help the boy. Fred eventually wins his struggle for acceptance when Dede and Jane realize their proper place in Fred’s life and adjust their lives accordingly.
A great, enjoyable film with great scenes and emotional narration from Fred that really drives the realistic drama right to the audience. This movie also has some great comedic moments, especially Dede’s explanation of Fred’s origin as they ride on a bus. Highly recommended and rated PG for language.