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Little Man Tate (1991)

PG | | Drama | 1 November 1991 (USA)
1:43 | Trailer
A single mother raises a child prodigy on her own, struggling to give him every opportunity he needs to express his gift.


Jodie Foster


Scott Frank
2 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Jodie Foster ... Dede Tate
Alex Lee Alex Lee ... Fred Tate at 2
Adam Hann-Byrd ... Fred Tate
Michael Shulman ... Matt Montini
Nathan Lee Nathan Lee ... Matt's Teammate
Celia Weston ... Miss Nimvel
Danitra Vance ... Clinic Doctor
Dianne Wiest ... Jane Grierson
David Hyde Pierce ... Garth (as David Pierce)
Debi Mazar ... Gina
Richard Fredette Richard Fredette ... Bartender
George Plimpton ... Winston F. Buckner
Jennifer Trier Jennifer Trier ... Grierson Institute Teacher
P.J. Ochlan ... Damon Wells
John Bell John Bell ... Joey X


Dede is a sole parent trying to bring up her son Fred. When it is discovered that Fred is a genius, she is determined to ensure that Fred has all the opportunities that he needs, and that he is not taken advantage of by people who forget that his extremely powerful intellect is harboured in the body and emotions of a child. Written by Murray Chapman <muzzle@cs.uq.oz.au>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


It's not what he knows. It's what he understands.




PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


One of two movies that Orion Pictures planned to release in the last quarter of 1991. The other was Blue Sky (1994). Due to financial difficulties, they could not afford to release both, so it was decided to release this one, since Orion wanted to promote Jodie Foster as an Oscar nominee for The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Blue Sky (1994) was not released for another three years. Foster and Lange both ended up winning Best Actress awards, instead of having to compete with each other. See more »


(at around 50 mins) During a short part of Fred's piano piece, the notes he is hitting are obviously different to the ones that would be needed to make the sound. There is a part where the music is going down, but Fred's hands are moving up the keyboard. See more »


[first lines]
Fred Tate: It's funny, cause I *think* I can even remember being born. For the first two weeks of my life I didn't even have a name. Dede couldn't make up her mind. She finally decided on Fred. She said that she had never heard of a little kid named Fred before.
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Referenced in Hoops: The Pilot (2020) See more »


Mozart's String Quartet No 21, D Major, KV575
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (as Mozart)
Performed by Alban Berg Quartett
Courtesy of Teldec Classics International GmbH
By Arrangement with Warner Special Products
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User Reviews

The Curse of a Gift...
30 May 2017 | by ElMaruecan82See all my reviews

"Little Man Tate" is a heartwarming, at times poignant, story of a precocious and highly intelligent little boy named Fred Tate (Adam Hynn Bird) incapable to develop sane relationships with his entourage, especially kids his age. His best friend is his mother, a twenty-something free-spirited single woman named Dede and played by a young Jodie Foster, he calls her by her name as if that complicity was a way to make up for the lack of real buddies. One of the most eloquent scenes shows a room full of birthday decorations, balloons, cake and candies, but lacking the essential: kids.

This might sound like usual material; after all, gifted kids have always been lacking social skills despite their efforts. In a way, maybe these very efforts are the indicators that they have something to compensate, a sort of invisible burden but of socially handicapping effect. Still, the film obviously tries to get beyond these clichés by establishing the real trait of Fred; he's a smart boy with an incredible intuitive quality, so he can make his own diagnosis. His capability to 'understand' even the most obscure and hidden meanings maybe surpasses his ability to juggle with cubic roots and logarithms, so the paradox is that he can tell you what is wrong with him. But like in a math riddle, just because you can tell what the problem is doesn't mean you've got what it takes to solve it.

Fred tries his best to have ersatz of contacts with the other kids. The problem is that he's like a collateral victim of his intelligence, he's highly anxious over the future of the world, developing an ulcer from the anxiety, and yet he needs to be constantly challenged, to satisfy the particularities of his gift. Fred needs challenges he obviously can't find in the very world he wants to fit in, and he needs the real world to fulfill a few dreams, there's a sort of complex situation that an outsider will try to solve. The third player is Jane, played by Dianne Wiest, a former gifted child who helps them to find a path through painting, artistic creations, and travels to Orlando, contests and interview. As they say "travels broaden the mind" and that's what she tries to do.

There is not much of a plot except a fascinating coming-of-age story revolving around the 'love' triangle between Jane who's obviously fascinated by Fred and is convinced she can help him to find his way and Dede who can't stand the way he's treated like some sort of a circus freak. It's like "Good Will Hunting" with Wiest in the Skarsgard and Foster in the Williams' roles, but with maternal love at stakes. Dede even threatens Jane to kill her if anything wrong happens, and killing isn't a manner of speaking. But it seems like Fred is interested in these experiments, and during his journey, he comes across many interesting encounters, an obnoxious mathemagician kid wearing a black cape and a young adult student who teaches him billiards. But these relationships never last and tend to project the same reality to Fred: he needs a real mother and real friends.

Jane doesn't even seem capable to play a mother role, as she was too focused on the intelligence of her children she couldn't reach the intelligence of the heart, and Dede can't reach her son's mind. The story progresses nonetheless through a fascinating path where Fred's insecurities and weaknesses, rather understandable for a child, highlight the more unstable emotions of adults and inevitably lead to a moment of rebellion where Fred is obviously tired of being an object of fascination and prefers to be a subject. Jodie Foster was an appropriate director for she was a gifted child and maybe the character of little Fred was a way to let some repressed feelings steam off and reveal the curse of being below the others.

This is a 'little film' by the usual standards, in 1991, Jodie Foster would be more noted for her performance as Clarice Starling in "Silence of the Lambs" but the acting and yes, the directing, provide very interesting characters, so deep and real we actually care for them and wish they can find the strength to overcome these kind of puzzling dilemmas where everyone is both right and wrong. I only wish the resolution was handled in a better way, it seems that the film didn't care for a climax and things seemed to have been fixed by themselves as we couldn't tell what happened between the TV incident and the birthday party that concluded the film.

There must have been some off-screen reconciliation or deep discussions but we never get to know them, maybe it was a deliberate choice, an artistic license from Foster, telling us to give this little kid a break and accept that he could finally be a happy little boy. I guess I longed for more complexity but despite that little faux-pas, this is a movie that I enjoyed as a kid, and realized that it still held up very well with my adult mind.

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English | French

Release Date:

1 November 1991 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Little Man Tate See more »


Box Office


$10,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$230,106, 14 October 1991

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

Production Co:

Orion Pictures See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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