In Van Maximillian Carlson’s Princess of the Row, the model of familial loves is boiled down to a teenage girl and the love she has for her father. That may not seem a very difficult concept, but the father in this instance is problematic.
Alicia (Tayler Buck) has been bouncing around the foster care system. Not because she hasn’t been placed in good homes, but because she constantly runs away to join her father Bo (Edi Gathegi) who lives on L.A.’s skid row. Alicia loves her father unconditionally. But to the rest of the world Bo (actually Sgt. Beauregard Willis) is the kind of person we avoid at all costs. While the homeless in films are often shown as noble, unlucky, or kindly, Bo is threatening and even a bit disgusting. He suffered traumatic brain injury in Iraq and also suffers from severe PTSD. He mutters to himself, stares off into the distance, and suddenly erupts into violence. But for Alicia, he is the only family she knows.
When Alicia is with her father, she has to assume the parental role, making sure he is safe and has food. There are brief moments when he recognizes her and says something loving to her. She tells him, “I love it when you come back to me”, but those times are fleeting. Alicia, who wants to become a writer, has written a story about a unicorn that expresses something of her feelings for her father. That metaphor is really about her own dream, a dream that may be as unlikely as a real unicorn.
When Alicia tries to get help for Bo at the VA, the foster care people try to separate them. They go on the run. The one person they find willing to help, ends up being a child trafficker. In time, Alicia will need to find a way to live her own life without being tied to her father.
The film has won a number of festival prizes, both for the film itself and for the actors. It is an interesting coincidence that the film is coming out on Thanksgiving weekend in the midst of a pandemic in which we are being asked to forego family gatherings. This is a film that can remind us that the bond of family is something that is precious, but also may require letting go of each other for life to grow into maturity.
Princess of the Row is available at select theaters and on VOD.
Photos courtesy of Gravitas Ventures