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
Release date
  • 1999 (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 has spent his life in an abusive household. His father, Bob, is a raging violent alcoholic, while his mother, Theresa, 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 Theresa's records. He even does an insider job—robbing the diner where he works illegally. Failing in school, Joe is assigned a guidance counselor named Leonard Coles, 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, N.Y.



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