Little Man Tate

Jodie Foster's highly distinctive directorial debut (1991), scripted by Scott Frank (Dead Again), gives us a year in the life of a boy genius (Adam Hann-Byrd) framed by his seventh and eighth birthdays. Foster plays his devoted working-class mother, and Dianne Wiest is a child psychologist, once herself a gifted child, who fights for control of the little boy. This is largely played for comedy, and is often quite funny, but Foster also shows a great deal of sensitivity depicting the young hero's social isolation and weighing the respective strengths and limitations of the two women as parental figures. (There's virtually no father figure in sight, and part of what makes this movie so provocative is its discreet suggestion that one isn't necessary.) Visually bold and imaginative and wonderfully acted (Foster and Hann-Byrd in particular give fine, expansive performances without a trace of sentimentality), with a very effective jazz score by Mark Isham that helps counterbalance an overly schematic script. Not a total success, but strongly recommended. With Harry Connick Jr., David Pierce, Debi Mazar, and P.J. Ochlan.

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