‘Troop Zero’ has moments of whimsy, but its characters are too sparse to be wholly inspirational.
Kernel Rating: 2.5 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 94 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 8+. ‘Troop Zero’ follows a group of bullied children who decide to create their own Birdies Scout group. The bullied children are mocked pretty cruelly by other kids: they are insulted, called “trash,” and mocked for their weight, personality, and gender identity. A food fight between the two groups gets pretty pointed, and there is constant comparison between the “feminine” group and the other children. A parent’s death is the impetus for the narrative; adult characters drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and curse; and there is some bathroom humor regarding children urinating when they are nervous.
By Roxana Hadadi
“Troop Zero,” in the spirit of “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Goonies,” and “The Mighty Ducks,” follows a group of young misfits as they aim to prove their worth against the bullies who won’t leave them alone. Although the movie has moments of whimsy and charm, its characters are sketched so thinly that it might be difficult for older viewers to be too moved or emotionally invested.
The film focuses primarily on young Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace), growing up in Wiggly, Georgia, in 1977. After her mother’s death the year before, Christmas is obsessed with space — one of her mother’s favorite things — but barely managed by her father, lawyer Ramsey Flint (Jim Gaffigan), who hasn’t won a case in months. They’re behind on bills, Ramsey’s clients are behind on paying them, and the only constant in either Christmas or Ramsey’s life is his office manager, Miss Rayleen (Viola Davis).
Christmas has barely any friends — only next-door neighbor Joseph (Charlie Shotwell), who is mocked ruthlessly and called a “girl-boy” for his interest in fashion, hair, music, and dance — but she realizes she might need some when a unique opportunity comes to Wiggly. With NASA planning to launch a golden record into space with children’s voices recorded on it, in case there is any chance of intelligent life coming across the recording, it’s revealed that the winners of the Birdie Scouts Jamboree will have their voices immortalized. Given that Christmas’s sole interest in the world is the stars above her, she’s obsessed with getting her voice on that recording — but troop leader Miss Massey (Allison Janney) and lead bully Piper (Ashley Brooke) will in no way allow Christmas into their group.
Christmas’s only choice is to start her own rival Birdie group, Troop Zero, with a motley crew of the town’s outcast kids, including the bully Hell-No (Milan Rey), the destructive Smash (Johanna Colón), and the one-eyed, super-religious Anne-Claire (Bella Higginbotham). Under the tutelage of the begrudging Miss Rayleen, the members of Troop Zero have to each earn their own Birdie badges and raise enough money to qualify for the Jamboree — but can the kids tolerate each other, collaborative creatively, and really become a team in order to win?
Many of the story beats of “Troop Zero” are familiar to any film that features a group of kids who don’t like each other being forced to work together, and there isn’t much unique to this film’s presentation of that narrative. Hell-No and Christmas in particular don’t get along; Anne-Claire’s religion is met with wariness from the other kids; and Smash never speaks, she only grunts and screams. Those extremely thin characterizations might keep viewers from truly connecting with anyone, especially because even Christmas’s fascination with space — the impetus for the film — is only presented as a wish of her mother’s. What Christmas herself wants to accomplish by being on the golden record is related to her mom’s death, but not necessarily to her own interests as an individual, and that makes the movie’s motivations a bit slight.
Outside of the group of kids, the movie is also somewhat confusing in its presentation of race relations in this small Southern town in the 1970s (it’s unfortunate, for example, that neither children of color, Hell-No or Smash, is given a real name), and the relationships between the adults in particular (like a longstanding rivalry between Miss Rayleen and Miss Massey) are too simplistically handled.
Still, there are some moments here that carry emotional weight, like Ramsey acknowledging to his daughter that he’s struggling with raising her alone, the friendship developed between Christmas and Hell-No, and Joseph coming into his element while styling hair. And until the film’s final climactic moment, a fun performance of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” is derailed by a tonally disjointed moment of bathroom humor, Troop Zero’s affection for the song is palpable. The film’s unnevenness might keep it from connecting with older audiences who want more from their narratives than what “Troop Zero” provides, but younger kids, especially those interested in space, could enjoy the underdog story being told here.
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