Directed by: Frank Whaley
Written by: Frank Whaley
Other cast: Noah Fleiss, Karen Young, John Leguizamo, Val Kilmer, Ethan Hawke, Camryn Manheim
Release date: January 22, 1999
Genre: Crime, Drama
Running time: 1:33h
A disadvantaged, abused, neglected, exploited but basically decent kid slips into criminality while trying to cope with his harsh, inescapable reality.
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. Joe’s house in the movie was filmed on Poultney Street (Midland Beach 10306) Staten Island, N.Y.