Review by James Lindorf
Directed by Van Maximilian Carlson and written by Carlson and Shawn Austin Princess of the Row stars Tayler Buck (Annabelle: Creation), Edi Gathegi (X-Men: First Class), Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty), Jacob Vargas (Luke Cage), and Martin Sheen. It will have its World Premiere at the 2019 Cinequest Film Festival on Saturday, March 9 in San Jose California.
Alicia Willis (Tayler Buck), is a creative 12-year-old girl who has been bouncing around the L.A. foster care system. Her father, Sgt. Beaumont “Bo” Willis (Edi Gathegi) suffered a traumatic brain injury during his service in Iraq and is now homeless living on LA’s skid row suffering from severe PTSD. Her mother, she ran off after having trouble dealing with the changes in her husband. Many families have tried to offer Alicia a new home, but it doesn’t interest her. She who only wants to be with her father who she remembers as a caring man with a love of storytelling.
The thing that puts Princess of the Row over the top was the work of Casting Director Nicki Katz, who previously worked with Tayler Buck on Annabelle: Creation. Buck is a relative newcomer but was up to the task of being the emotional center of the movie. Alicia is so passionate for her father and her writing that you can’t help but root for her as you watch her make mistake after well-meaning mistake. Buck excels in the moment when Alicia is at her most desperate and is willing to do anything to protect her father. Edi Gathegi also turns in a good performance as a man trapped in his own mind from physical and psychological traumas. Most of his dialogue is muttered under his breath putting an emphasis on his facial and physical acting. Martin Sheen also has an intense moment when discussing why he is having his own issues with welcoming Alicia into his home.
Through his story about a young girl and her love for her father, Carlson is able to share his view on the damage done to the men and women we send to war. Homelessness, anger issues, struggles with the V.A. are all battles they continue to fight once they return home. Carlson could have gone even further by including former female soldiers as characters in his story as well as topics like sexual assault and suicide.
The script by Carlson and Austin is relatively subtle. It doesn’t beat you over the head with politics or who is right and wrong instead providing an intimate look into the character’s lives. While you may forget some the finer details or the story at large, there are moments in Princess of the Row that will exist in your memory forever. It may not have the oomph factor that would allow it to be recognized as a great film on a large scale, but there are many strong elements here that Buck, Carlson, and Austin are people worth watching as they continue in their young careers.