PRINCESS OF THE ROW (2020)
Martin Sheen, Tayler Buck, Edi Gathegi, Jacob Vargas, Ana Ortiz, Blake Michael, Jenny Gago, Tabitha Brown, Sarah-Jayne Bedford, Anthony Jensen
Directed by Van Maximilian Carlson
There are 30,000 foster kids just in LA County, the largest number in the country. In “Princess of the Row” teen actress Tayler Buck (“Annabelle: Creation”) plays 12-year-old Alicia who takes care of her father Bo (Edi Gathegi), a veteran suffering from PTSD. The pair live in a tent on Skid Row, the fifty city block area in Los Angeles, home to over 4,000 homeless people. Director Van Maximilian Carlson (“Bhopali”) sheds light on the plight of America’s displaced youth, many of who are runaways, while calling attention to those who have faithfully served our country only to get tossed aside by the system. Heavy, harsh, and 100% authentic.
Sgt. Beaumont 'Bo' Willis (Gathegi) returned from the Iraq war partly blind and mentally disabled because of a brain injury. Looking like a zombie from Wes Craven’s “The Serpent and the Rainbow” the homeless veteran is detached from reality, often mumbling to himself. His wife abandoned him a long time ago and so the responsibility of his well-being has fallen into the hands of preteen daughter Alicia (Buck) who bounces between foster homes and Aunt Tammy (Tabitha Brown) who’s only interested in collecting the subsidy check that comes along with her niece.
“Princess of the Row” takes place in a world of hardship that most of us will never experience, yet it exists just out of our comfort zone. Alicia’s world is filled with seedy strangers willing to take advantage of the young girl as the film also sheds light on human trafficking. Martin Sheen and Jenny Gago play adoptive parents willing to give Alicia a home, but she would be hours away from her father and that won’t work; She would rather remain homeless. It’s not so absurd as the story co-written by Carlson and Shawn Austin, who has an adoptive family, illustrates.
Tackling two heavy issues in one film is a large order. At times “Princess” tries too hard to drive the competing messages home but the film never wanders into sentimental territory. Buck’s exceptional performance drives the film while Gathegi never elicits the responsiveness his character deserves which is not the actor’s fault. The intermittent moments of “clarity” where Bo interacts with Alicia are not enough to connect with the audience, although we do feel empathy for the character.
The ending feels deceptive, but the important themes conveyed in the story coupled with the solid performances by the cast are enough to recommend a viewing of the poignant film executive produced by Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary.