A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie might have a child as the lead character, but it deals with mature themes. A single mom tells her son he had no father, that he was a miracle. A young boy's isolation and anxiety might distress sensitive audiences, while his social exclusion at school will resonate with those who have experienced the difficulties of fitting-in. A college student takes a young boy to a pool-hall where people are drinking and smoking, and later is seen semi-naked in bed with a young woman. There are scenes of social anxiety, including a television appearance and a party, and multiple references to the stress-induced ulcers suffered by a child. There are three accidents involving children, all of which result in adult/medical attention. A character smokes and drinks in private. Several scenes have name-calling and profanity.
What's the story?
Seven-year-old Fred (played hauntingly well by Adam Hann-Byrd) is a budding young math/science/music genius and a sensitive soul writing poetry about his loneliness. His mother, Dede (Jodie Foster), is a hard-working waitress who wants to give him a normal life but realizes that his intelligence demands special treatment -- from school and from her. Fred is barely surviving public school, where kids never pick him for the kickball team and he amuses himself by playing mind games on the perplexed teacher. When Jane (Dianne Wiest), the head of a school for the gifted, reaches out to Fred to join in two special summer programs, Dede is torn between feeding Fred's intellect and wanting to shelter him from the world. Despite his intellectual gifts, Fred is clearly a little boy who needs his mom, who wants very much to have friends and who strives to be accepted.
Is it any good?
LITTLE MAN TATE, Jodie Foster's directorial debut, is as empathetic as its main character, if not as brilliant. Some of the characters, though well-acted, are written as broad stereotypes. For example, good-time Eddy breaks his promises, successful Jane cannot cook, dance-loving Dede dislikes seeing her son buried in a book, and Fred is brilliant at everything (not just numbers or art). Kids will enjoy the maturity with which the characters are treated; this is not a movie that talks down to its audience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the relationship between Fred and Dede changes over the movie: What makes the characters lose or gain confidence? Fred is portrayed as a very rare sort of genius, one who excels at everything he touches but who also feels things very deeply. How does he relate to other kids? The character of the "mathemagician" says that without Jane and the academic approval she brings, he would just be "another creep in a cape." How does he differ from Fred? Parents might wish to discuss the broader theme of accepting people different from themselves.
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.