Jodie Foster makes an appealing, if modest, directorial debut with Little Man Tate. Scott Frank (Dead Again) penned this nicely observed tale of a year in the life of a seven-year-old genius.
An accomplished painter, poet and pianist in addition to being a math wizard, Fred Tate (Adam Hann-Byrd) is being raised by his single mother, a mildly tough working-class woman whom he, along with the rest of the world, calls Dede (played with a vulgar accent by Foster).
Before long Fred comes to the attention of wealthy Jane Grierson (Dianne Wiest), a child psychologist and teacher of the gifted. Fred moves in with her when he is invited to attend a summer college course, and strikes up an engaging relationship with a somewhat older, titanically arrogant math genius named Damon (memorably impersonated by P.J. Ochlan).
Most of the film’s emotional power lies in the open, alert, eager-to-please face of Hann-Byrd, making his acting debut. Filled with small, telling moments rather than big events, film never really gets inside Fred’s head, but it neatly sketches the external aspects of his predicament.