30 August 2015

Little Man Tate (starring Jodie Foster and Adam Hann-Byrd)

This is probably one of those movies that Amazon recommended to me - or perhaps I read a review of it elsewhere. In any case, I put it on my wishlist and was given it for my birthday a few months ago. We sat down to watch it with our twenty-something son on Sunday.

‘Little Man Tate’ is about a small boy called Fred (Adam Hann-Byrd) who is nearly seven when the story begins, and is already a highly gifted pianist, mathematician and artist. He lives with his single mother Dede (Jodie Foster) and they’re very close; however he is excessively bored in school and struggles to make any friends. His mother doesn’t understand his giftedness and wants him to be an ordinary little boy; she loves him very much but is resistant to ‘gifted and talented’ style testing.

However, she eventually allows him to take some tests and attend interviews, pending some enrichment courses and spending time with other prodigies. The psychologist Jane (Dianne West) becomes almost another mother figure to him… until he realises that gifted children are no pleasanter than regular ones, and that Jane may be able to offer him a great deal in terms of academic challenge, but she has no idea how to be a parent…

Fred is not portrayed as having Asperger’s Syndrome or any other learning disability; he’s affectionate and friendly, and quite capable of pretending to do things wrong so as not to stand out. Some of his teachers (and, indeed, the psychologist Jane) are portrayed as caricatures, condescending to their charges and with no real connection to them at all, which gave a light-hearted touch to what could have been a very heavy story.

Jodie Foster directs the film as well as playing Fred’s mother, and we thought she did it well, sensitively and with a good pace. Overall, we loved the story; the way it’s told, with the different viewpoints and the struggles to help a child who is ‘different’ as well as the tensions between those who value academic excellence above everything else, and those who don’t.

However…

The soundtrack on the DVD was very badly mixed. The music was too intrusive, often drowning out the speech entirely. My husband did all he could to increase the sound of the dialogue while reducing the music but by about half way through we had to switch on the subtitles in order to catch what was going on. I struggled with the strong accents in any case, but Fred and Dede in particular spoke very quietly and it was important to know what they were saying.

We also thought that, while the young actor did well, he was never quite believable as a gifted prodigy. And it was a pity that none of the serious academics or psychologists were portrayed as believable or indeed likeable.

The rating is PG which we thought about right; there's some strong language, and minor violence, but nothing explicit. Unlikely to appeal much to small children anyway.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

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