Joe the King
Actor Frank Whaley makes his directorial debut with Joe The King, a downbeat drama about a 14-year-old boy coming of age in an abusive and uncaring environment. When he was nine, Joe Henry (Noah Fleiss) lied to his friends about his father's job because he was ashamed that his father was the school janitor; in turn, he was humiliated in front of his class. Five years later, things are much worse; his father (Val Kilmer) has become a violent alcoholic who can't hold a job, while his mother (Karen Young) is harsh and unloving. Joe works illegally as a dishwasher to help support the family, but resorts to petty theft when it's clear his salary alone won't pay his father's debts. Eventually Joe attempts to steal the restaurant's cash box to get his father out of the red -- with tragic results. Whaley, who claims this story is "loosely autobiographical," assembled a strong cast for his first turn behind the camera, including Ethan Hawke, John Leguizamo, and Austin Pendleton. Joe The King premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.