When her son was born Dede (Jodie Foster) took a couple of weeks before giving him the name Fred (Adam Hann-Byrd) as she had never heard of another child called Fred before. But it wasn't long before Dede started to realise that Fred was not a normal child as he was super smart, extremely artistic and capable of understanding things most adults couldn't even start to comprehend. But for Dede she believes the best thing for Fred is to try and have as normal a childhood as possible. But Fred's ability comes to the attention of Jane Grierson (Dianne Wiest) who studies children who have abilities far reaching their years and wants Fred to attend an adult college to nurture his abilities.
99 minutes looking at the life of a child genius and how difficult that is for not just the child but also those involved. That is a one sentence description of "Little Man Tate" and whilst that may not sound like an engaging movie it is surprisingly engaging thanks to Jodie Foster's simple but effective direction. In fact whilst now over 25 years old "Little Man Tate" is as entertaining as it ever was.
So what we get in "Little Man Tate" is a triple view at the situation as on one hand we have Dede wanting what is best for Fred and wanting him to have a normal childhood but is aware that his intelligence often makes him feel isolated and unlike others, whilst at the same time fears she will be left behind if he goes to college. Then on the other hand we have Jane who wants to nurture Fred's ability but becomes very aware that whilst a genius he still a young boy who still needs to be a child. What we get is two very good performances with Jodie Foster playing the protective Dede whilst Dianne Wiest delivers Jane as a more refined lady who discovers a maternal side she is completely unaware of.
But the real star of "Little Man Tate" is Adam Hann-Byrd as Fred because this young child actor brings the layers of Fred to life in a brilliant way. In every single scene you get to see that whilst Fred is extremely clever he understandably doesn't have the experience to function with those at his academic level. It isn't just Adam Hann-Byrd who shines in this, P.J. Ochlan as maths genius Damon is just as good and you get to understand the curse of being a genius when he says he counts everything.
What this all boils down to is that "Little Man Tate" is an entertaining and insightful look at the life of a child prodigy. And whilst a lot of credit must go to Jodie Foster for her sensitive directing it is Adam Hann-Byrd who makes the movie as he brings out the genius and the child in Fred in such a natural and brilliant way.