Joe the King

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Joe the King
Directed by Frank Whaley
Produced by Jennifer Dewis, Scott Macaulay, Lindsay Marx, Robin O'Hara
Written by Frank Whaley
Starring Noah Fleiss
Val Kilmer
Karen Young
Ethan Hawke
John Leguizamo
Austin Pendleton
Camryn Manheim
Max Ligosh
Chief Jimmy Costa, AP World History Teacher @ Xavier High
Release dates 1999
Country United States
Language English

Joe the King is a 1999 drama film, written and directed by Frank Whaley, based largely on his own childhood and the childhood of his brother. It stars Noah Fleiss, Val Kilmer, Karen Young, Ethan Hawke, John Leguizamo, Austin Pendleton, Camryn Manheim, Max Ligosh and James Costa. The film premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award (shared with Guinevere).


14-year-old Joe Henry (Noah Fleiss) has spent his life in an abusive household. His father Bob (Val Kilmer) is a raging violent alcoholic, while his mother, Theresa (Karen Young) feels too stressed to pay attention to him and lives in fear of getting caught in the path of her husband's wrath. His brother, about a year older, is normal and friendly, but offers no affirmative guidance. He mostly ignores Joe as he doesn't want the association of Joe's natural uncoolness ruining his attempts to get into the "in" crowd. Joe is taunted by his classmates, and hassled by creditors about his father's mounting bills. To make matters worse, one night Bob goes off the deep end and smashes all of Theresa's records. In response to economic pressure, Joe takes a full-time job after school, leaving him tired and even less able to keep up with class work. Far worse, he becomes a petty thief to raise the money to pay Bob's bills and replace her records. He even does an insider job—robbing the diner where he works illegally.

Failing in school, Joe is assigned a Guidance counselor Leonard Coles (Ethan Hawke), who, though reasonably friendly, is incompetent. (For example, in their first session, when Joe starts to talk about his problems, the counselor unthinkingly shuts him off). Disaster eventually strikes, and Joe faces the rest of his seemingly doomed life in doubt. Ironically, where he winds up next seems more like hope than tragedy. Perhaps a chance to get away from his horrible childhood and family.


This film was shot almost entirely on Staten Island, serving as a stand-in location for Whaley's home town of Syracuse, New York. Numerous scenes were shot at Staten Island Technical High School.[1] Joe's house in the movie was filmed on poultney street (midland beach 10306) staten island ny


  • This film marks Frank Whaley's directorial debut. Whaley himself has referred to this movie as "semi-autobiographical." For the childhood of him and his older brother, Robert.
  • John Leguizamo was originally set to direct the film, but while doing "Summer of Sam" and his latest one-man show "Freak" as well as being cast as Jorge, Frank Whaley stepped in as director. Leguizamo acted as well as staying on as executive producer.
  • Whaley has a director's cameo as one of the residents of the town Bob owes money to. He's the unnamed mustachioed man in the scene where Joe is watching his father being pushed and yelled at right near their home.
  • Val Kilmer gained a significant amount of weight for his role as an abusive alcoholic father.
  • Near the end of the movie where Henry is making an attempt to tell Joe how much he really cares, the lullaby music coming from the ice cream truck was unintentional. But Whaley liked the way it played in the scene, so he left it in.
  • Due to the fact that Leguizamo appeared in both this film and "Summer of Sam" the same year, he was able to use the same 1970's period wardrobe.


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