Joe the King

Director: Frank Whaley
Screenwriters: Frank Whaley

Institute History

  • 1999 Sundance Film Festival


One of Joe’s first lasting impressions came from being humiliated in front of his class by the teacher for trying to hide the fact that his father was the school janitor. Five years later, Joe is still ashamed of his father, but now it’s for being an abusive, unemployed alcoholic. Set in the 1970s, Joe the King is a touching portrayal of a kid who feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. Through beautiful cinematography and a nostalgic sound track writer/director Frank Whaley does a wonderful job of capturing the nuances of the time period.
Joe is a victim of good intentions gone wrong. Forced to work illegally as a dishwasher in a restaurant, he has no qualms about stealing from the till to repair other parts of his broken life, including paying off his dad’s debts and replacing his mom’s album collection, destroyed in his father’s drunken rage. Joe eventually gets caught and is sentenced to six months in juvenile prison. He has one day of freedom and sadly spends it playing alone. It’s not until he says good-bye to his family that they finally begin to realize what he has sacrificed for them.
The film’s greatest strength comes from the compassionate performances by Noah Fleiss as Joe and Val Kilmer as his father. Joe the King truly captures the isolation and raw emotion of Joe’s life and honestly portrays the hardships of growing up in a hostile environment.

Frank Whaley, Director
Frank Whaley was born in
Syracuse, New York, in 1963. After receiving his BA in theatre from Albany State University, he moved to New York and began working in off-Broadway theatre. In 1988 he landed his first film role alongside Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep in Ironweed. He has since appeared in more than thirty films, including Born on the Fourth of July, The Doors, Field of Dreams, Pulp fiction, and Swimming with Sharks. Joe the King is his first feature film.

— Mary Kerr

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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