A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Jodie Foster says there is an element of autobiography in “Little Man Tate,” the first film she chose to direct. It's the story of a 6-year-old who happens to be a genius, and also happens to be a little boy. Math problems solve themselves in his mind, and he plays piano at a concert level, and when he reads the paper he gets depressed by the news. But he also needs his mom, feels tongue-tied when a lot of adults are looking at him, and gets homesick when he stays away from home overnight.
I know Foster is telling the truth when she says there is a little of her own story in the story of Fred Tate, because I met her when she was only a few years older than the little man in her film.
She had been appearing in movies since she was 3, but child actors are commonplace and that isn't what made her special. What was impressive was how smart, cool and observant she was for her age; how she discussed the motivations of her characters and the quirks of her directors.
I was interviewing her for “Freaky Friday” (1977) or one of those other Disney movies she made. She met me at a health food place on Sunset Boulevard - no publicist in tow - and ordered something with a lot of alfalfa sprouts in it. The next time I saw her, she was already 13, and translating from French to English and back again at the Cannes Film Festival, where she starred in “Taxi Driver.” I mention these meetings for a reason. I sensed a quality in Jodie Foster than I also sense in Fred Tate: a certain balance, a certain perspective on the strangeness of life. Despite spending 25 of her 28 years in show business, Foster is sane, focused and not much impressed by showbiz glitter. Fred Tate is the same way; he looks at things with a level eye, he is not neurotic, he handles a roller-coaster childhood without going nuts.