What makes a home – a place or a person? Princess of the Row explores this age-old question imperfectly but with tenderness through the eyes of Alicia (Tayler Buck), a young, aspiring writer whose relationship with her father Bo (Edi Gathegi), a homeless veteran suffering from PTSD, is being pulled apart at the seams.
Unable to be cared for by Bo and with no mother figure in her life, Alicia finds herself jumping from one foster home to the next, never being able to settle. No matter where she ends up, she always returns to the same place: her father’s shabby tent on Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles. Social services are constantly on her tail, failing to understand how deep her concern for her father’s well-being runs. Bo’s PTSD, resulting from a brain injury sustained while on duty in Iraq, leaves him in a state of near-total disassociation. Memories of his old life with Alicia come back to him in fits and starts; as do echoes of the war, triggered by anything from loud noises to violence. After moving in with her latest foster parents, kind-hearted couple John (Martin Sheen) and Carolina (Jenny Gago), Alicia decides to run away with her father for good, leaving town to try and make a life for them both.
At times, the plot meanders and it’s hard to tell exactly where it’s going, but that’s the very nature of Alicia’s life: always changing and unpredictable. The only constant in her life is the stories she writes in which she envisions herself as a princess with a beloved unicorn, alluding to her close relationship with and memories of Bo before his injury. Alicia’s devotion to her father is both heart-warming and heart-breaking; he acknowledges her presence but is unable, for the most part, to recognise her and their bond. Buck and Gathegi (who also serves as producer) give impassioned performances, and Buck, in particular, carries the emotional weight of the story with confidence and maturity.
The film examines more than just familial love and sacrifice, touching also upon issues such as mental health, the treatment of war veterans, and abuse in its many forms. The portrayal of Alicia and Bo’s vulnerability hits hard, and the reality of being homeless and on the run is certainly not sugar-coated. That being said, the realistic violence perpetrated against Alicia, in one particular scene, seems gratuitous and questionable considering the film was written and directed by white men. This isn’t to say that the entire narrative is invalid due to its authorship, but it does raise questions over who should be bringing what stories to the table.
In spite of a few narrative shortcomings, Princess of the Row tells a very unique story from an under-explored perspective. Supporting its originality is a sublime score of strings and percussion beats by Julian Scherle which, when combined with Maz Makhani’s equally ethereal cinematography, makes for a memorable film experience.
by Holly Weaver
Holly Weaver is currently studying French and Spanish at the University of Leeds, and has spent her year abroad studying film in Montréal. An old soul, she is enraptured by pre-1960s cinema and some of her favourite films include Singin’ in the Rain, City Lights and The Crime of Monsieur Lange. Her life ambition is to dress like Phillip “Duckie” Dale from Pretty in Pink, her one true style icon. You can find her tweeting and letterboxd’ing at @drivermiller.