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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Little Man Tate (Blu-ray)
Little Man Tate (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // PG // April 28, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matt Hinrichs | posted May 1, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

"What I really want to do is direct" seems to be an ongoing refrain for successful actors, but Jodie Foster put those familiar words into action for 1991's Little Man Tate, her first turn behind the camera for a motion picture. Now being reissued on a high-def Blu Ray from Olive Films, this casually paced, good-natured drama remains enjoyable mostly because the director seemed well-acquainted with the struggles of its main character - a genius little boy who merely wants to fit in.

Unlike Little Man Tate's 7 year-old prodigy Fred Tate (Adam Hann-Byrd in a fine, subtle performance), Jodie Foster was no genius. One can definitely see what drew Foster to this story, however, since she knew the cost of living an unorthodox childhood surrounded by adults. Still in her twenties at this point, Foster had spent nearly three-quarters of her life as a precocious, strangely observant child actor. That keen sense of observation and an understanding of what gifted kids go through gives this movie a bit more emotional heft.

At the movie's start, Fred Tate is a sweet but distant little misfit, cared for by Dede (Foster), a single cocktail waitressing mom who dearly loves her boy despite not comprehending his intelligence. Bored in a New York City public school, and finding more enjoyment in books than in other kids, Fred is quietly yearning for the stimulating environment that his mom is too busy to provide - until he comes to the attention of Jane Grierson (Dianne Wiest), a child psychologist who runs a school for gifted children. Along with her colleague, Garth Emmerick (David Hyde Pierce), Jane encourages Dede to allow Fred to be around other kids like himself to help him develop more healthily. Dede reluctantly allows for Jane to chaperone Fred and a few other prodigies in a traveling, Olympics-style learning competition for brilliant kids. Jane eventually convinces Dede to have her son enrolled in a college where the other students are three times his age, although in this new environment - cohabiting with the well-intentioned yet icy Jane - Fred winds up feeling more alienated than ever. It takes a bit of separation anxiety for Dede to realize that Fred needs a loving home with a real mother (not a pal) for him to blossom into a well-adjusted kid who happens to be a genius.

Dealing with a genius-level kid like Fred isn't something most filmgoers can identify with, yet Foster succeeds in tailoring this story to become more about the universal need for affection and positive reinforcement. The movie loses its way a little bit in the second half, with college-student-Fred befriending Harry Connick Jr. as the one classmate who treats him like an equal. It delves into the old nature-vs.-nurture debate in a sweet, uncomplicated way, however, illuminated with several good performances. Young Adam Hann-Byrd especially stands out in that respect, realistically conveying Fred's awkwardness while giving him a sweetness that never seems cloying. As a director, Foster does better with the kid characters than the adults, although Wiest is terrific as usual and Foster gives Dede a measure of tenderness under her tough, defensive exterior.

Little Man Tate also benefits from Foster's casual directing style - it isn't too show-offy, instead settling into an appealing, observational groove. Roger Ebert's original review of this movie pointed out the resemblance between Foster's direction and what Fran├žoise Truffaut did for his easygoing comedies, which is spot-on.


Note: images are from promotional sources and do not reflect the quality of the Blu Ray under review.

The Blu Ray:


Video

Olive's edition of Little Man Tate is a high-resolution carryover from the 2001 MGM DVD, the 16:9 widescreen image looking fine and pleasantly detailed. The unrestored transfer shows a little bit of edge enhancement, sharpening the grain, but the colors are pleasantly muted. Occasionally the film sports a few tiny specks, but for the most part it's a clean looking picture.

Audio

The 5.1 Surround mix for this dialogue-driven film is a little bit plain, although the sequences with Mark Isham's jazzy score provide some atmosphere. No subtitles or alternate audio tracks are included (hold on to the DVD in case you want the French and Spanish-language dubs).

Extras

While the DVD included an audio commentary from Jodie Foster, it's missing on this extras-devoid disc. Unlike Kino and Shout Factory, who make some effort to port over bonus content from the earlier DVD releases of these MGM-owned titles, Olive pretty much just plops the film onto a disc. No exception here.

Final Thoughts

Jodie Foster made an engaging directorial debut with 1991's Little Man Tate, a film given some emotional heft from Foster's own familiarity with the story. This unassuming comedy-drama uses a genius kid protagonist to prove that, darn it, people just need to be loved. Recommended.


Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and jack-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2000, he has been blogging at Scrubbles.net. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's experienced are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.

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