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Joe the King
IMDB Rating: 6.7/10 from R votes
Release: 22 January 1999 (USA) /

Joe the King

Genre: Crime, Drama
Director: Frank Whaley,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: A destitute 14-year-old struggles to keep his life together despite harsh abuse at his mother's hands, harsher abuse at his father's, and a growing separation from his slightly older brother. Petty thefts for food grow into more major takes until he steals a cash box from the diner where he works. Although Joe uses the money to pay off some of his father's debts and to replace his mother's records that his father smashed in a fit of temper, Joe gets no thanks. Written by John Sacksteder <[email protected]>

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Critic Reviews


Featured at the 1999 Toronto Film Festival, the directorial debut from the talented actor Frank Whaley "Joe The King" was introduced by Frank's long-time friend Ethan Hawke and the film's main actor Noah Fleiss. Ethan explained that Frank and he had been the best of friends since their work on "A Midnight Clear" together. Frank couldn't present the film because he was only just getting into Toronto at the airport but happily agreed to a Q&A afterwards.

The film portrays with stunning clarity a bleak period in the life of Joe, a fourteen year old boy from a lower class neighbourhood whose father is an alcoholic and works as a janitor in Joe's school. Joe works in a restaurant after school and in all aspects of his life he's surrounded by people who look down on him, talk down to him and sometimes beat on him. It's very difficult to not feel sorry for someone like Joe, he'll likely break your heart. Many of us may have bad childhoods or perhaps recall them as such, but for most, this film will give you reason to feel lucky and fortunate whatever your situation was.

There's not so much a story as there is a stringing together of vignettes of a hellish childhood that brings an authentic feel to each and every aspect of the film. While the film does move along quite slowly, each performance given is a strong building block to assemble what ultimately seems to be an autobiographical account. The world that Joe lives in is so fully constructed and detailed that it's easy to forget you're watching a film and not a documentary.

What was revealed in the Q&A afterwards, was that Whaley wrote this film as a conglomerate of his brother and his own experiences growing up. A statement he almost reluctantly offers, explaining that the original title of the film was named for the street where he grew up. Out of respect for his mother they chose "Joe The King" which turns out to be a fairly arbitrary title. "I hope you're not telling people it's autobiographical," as he mimics his mother's concerned sentiment, at which point he shares that he hopes she never sees the film as it may prove too painful for her.

While the film is not based on a true story per se, that is not what is most relevant. What Joe goes through on a daily basis is what this story is about, what is likely to stir you, and not the pivotal event in the later part of the film. And as a young Joe looks into the camera at the end of the film, holding there for a moment. The question that haunts the viewer is, "What will become of young Joe The King?" The answer stood before us with a microphone in hand, fielding answers from an intrigued audience. Frank Whaley himself is the affirmation to his own film.

Frank in his usual charming way answered questions with enthusiasm and humour at one point recounting the casting of the film. As an actor for many years he has had the pleasure of working with numerous gifted individuals and many of these faces appear in the film. He had more difficulty with casting the younger element of the film as he explained that he "doesn't know any kids". He couldn't have asked for a better young lead than Noah Fleiss to play so convincingly Joe the King. And while I don't see this film breaking box office records or even flying off the video stands due to its depressing, sombre nature, I do believe it will be very meaningful to some people and for others prove how lucky they really are.

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