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'Princess of the Row' Review

LightsCameraJackson LightsCameraJackson Critic “Princess of the Row” is directed and co-written by Van Maximilian Carlson. It’s his first narrative feature in 17 years. And it’s one of those films that has its heart in the right place, but…

Taylor Buck plays 12-year-old Alicia. Her dad Bo (Edi Gathegi) suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in the military and is now homeless, living on L.A.’s “Skid Row”. Alicia’s in the foster care system but that hasn’t been going well. She wants to spend as much time as possible with her father, even living in a tent on the street. Her #1 priority is to help him out of his bad situation. But priorities have a way of changing.

From the first scene to the last, there’s a heightened, in-your-face, tone that, at times, borderlines on manic. And an overly intense soundtrack amplify the problem. It’s difficult to care about characters or story when situations are oddly energized to unrealistic levels.

Thankfully, a calming presence arrives late in the first act. Martin Sheen plays a successful writer. He and his wife have been foster parents for many years. Sheen’s character sees something in Alicia. His scenes with Buck are calm and emotionally effective. There just aren’t enough of them. Buck and Gathegi each have their moments, but their performances are not special.

There’s a moment around the halfway mark when “Princess” takes an uncomfortable (and unexpected) turn. But even with the twist, we know certain things are going to have to happen in order for the story to continue to move along. Carlson and Alan Shawn Austin have written a screenplay that boxes itself in. They insert “filler” material simply to get the narrative from Point A to B to C and, eventually, to Z. We know how it’s all going to play out by Point Q.

“Princess of the Row” lacks the free-flowing structure it so desperately needed. Carlson also edited the movie. Another set of eyes to help with tightening and finessing also would have helped.

Well-intentioned? Absolutely. But, ultimately, this film is more frustrating than satisfying.

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