Princess of the Row, 2019.
Directed by Van Maximilian Carlson.
Starring Edi Gathegi, Tayler Buck, Martin Sheen, Ana Ortiz, Jacob Vargas, Tabitha Brown, Blake Michael, Jenny Gago, and Tim Abell.
Alicia (Tayler Buck) is a promising writer who spends all her time caring for someone defined by PTSD. Her father (Edi Gathegi) is a war veteran prone to episodes and violent compulsions. Their life on skid row in Los Angeles is defined by tenderness and unpredictability. Eventually something has to give.
At the centre of this tale by director Van Maximilian Carlson is a staggering performance from Tayler Buck. A role which demands emotional commitment, physical resilience and complete command of character. A challenge which this supremely talented actress rises to from the off, channelling an on screen energy which not only grounds this film but pays back to audiences in spades.
Alicia has made it her business to preserve the memory of her mentally diminished father (Edi Gathegi) through memories and imaginative digressions. Edi Gathegi imbues Bo Willis with a quiet desperation punctuated by violent outbursts and nervous tics, which never resort to grandstanding. Alongside his daughter he exudes an air of nobility despite the obvious symptoms which impede judgement and awareness.
Stability for Alicia comes through Magdalene (Ana Ortiz) who is a rare example of authority in an existence lacking structure or guidance. Their continual push and pull forms much of the dialogue exchanged in this film, as interactions between Alicia and Bo are one sided at best. Gestures, glances and interpretative movement make up their father daughter dynamic in a film defined by threat.
This Los Angeles is an unforgiving urban jungle where disability, disadvantage and exploitation are part of the landscape. Money, security and opportunity all come at a cost which is too high for some. Their skid row community is combative, insular and exposed leaving them no choice but to keep moving. Van Maximilian Carlson paints a picture of disregard, disillusionment and urban decay in which survival is a best case scenario.
That Martin Sheen (John Austin) not only makes an appearance but a significant contribution, provides Princess of the Row with an effortless gravitas. His moments opposite Taylor Buck represent one of many high water marks in a film already digging deep for emotional investment. Although that screen time is limited he is able to add an additional dimension to a film already spoilt for performance highlights.
Ultimately what Princess of the Row offers is a tender love story filled with hope which is simultaneously uplifting yet tempered by adversity. Held aloft by an awe-inspiring performance of understated naturalism from Tayler Buck this film is something special. Merging soundtrack, time period and social commentary elements together in a visual ensemble it tackles hard topics without losing sight of the humanity beneath.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★