Troop Zero is described as an endearing underdog tale. Featuring McKenna Grace, Viola Davis, and Allison Janney, the film sounded like the kind of movie I love, one about friendship and being different. Beyond the topic, the stars of the movie are all excellent and some of my favorites. Watching it proved my hopes right. This film is beautiful, touching, and is all about being celebrating the unique and finding friends who love us as well as loving ourselves.
Directed by Bert & Bertie, from a screenplay by Beasts of the Southern Wild co-writer Lucy Alibar and inspired by Alibar’s 2010 play Christmas and Jubilee Behold The Meteor Shower, the movie is set in Wiggly, Georgia, 1977. Troop Zero stars McKenna Grace as Christmas Flint, a little girl whose mother has died and is being raised by her father, Ramsey Flint (Jim Gaffigan). Christmas has only one friend, Joseph (Charlie Shotwell) and dreams of making contact with space, mostly because she believes her mother is one with the stars. When she discovers that the Birdie Scouts annual talent competition will allow one troop to be recorded on the Golden Record (a record being sent into space by NASA), she is determined to form her own troop and win the contest. But first, she must get others to join her troop and she must have a troop mother. So she sets about recruiting Joseph, violent Hell-No Price (Milan Ray), Smash (Johanna Colon) and one-eyed Ann-Clair (Bella Higginbotham) along with her Rayleen (Viola Davis), who works for her father. With the troop in place, the children begin working to get their badges to qualify for the competition but are thwarted by Troop Five, run by Principal Massey (Allison Janney) and the mean girls of Wiggly. Christmas and her troop of misfits must work together to overcome the odds in order to win the talent show with the help of her father, Rayleen, along with her father’s friend, Dwayne Boudraux (Mike Epps).
This film is full of delightful and sweet moments, with quirky humor and unique characters. None of the children fit in with the rest of the kids. Each one, though, has something that makes them special but part of the movie is showing us how each one develops that talent and how friendship grows between the group as they work together to overcome the obstacles thrown their way. Along the way, they learn to depend on each other, even when they struggle and learn that they aren’t alone. Christmas especially learns that she can rely on her father and her friends even though her mother is gone. Even when life is hard, the group learns to endure and carry on. These special scenes, like Hell-No, telling scary stories to keep Christmas awake to win her badge or Joseph and Ann Claire standing up to the girls of Troop Five are the scenes that resonate and capture that underdog spirit that makes you root for the children to win. And what I love most is the way that the children learn to be strong in adversity. The film shows how special each child is, how different but also illustrates how difficult that can be at times. As a child who was not the popular kid, I love how realistic this is portrayed.
One of the strengths of the film, other than the plot, is the dialogue. There are lines that are laugh out loud and is perfectly fitting to the South. There was at least one Bless your heart and Rayleen calls the children her “boos”. One of the troop mothers asks what the children are made of, to which Christmas replies, “We’re made of organs and tissues.” Unusual lines these sprinkle the film and make it both memorable and hilarious. Beyond the humor, there are touching lines as well, when Christmas’s father tells her he is proud of her and when Rayleen stands up for the children against Principal Massey. Both the funny scenes and the sweet ones will have you cheering for these odd heroes.
It is the quality of the acting that pushes this quiet film to the highest levels. Not only is Viola Davis brilliant as Rayleen but her chemistry and interactions with McKenna Grace as Christmas are what move the story forward and build a fantastic movie. McKenna is strong and sweet as the main character and the entire cast is brilliant. Allison Janney as Principal Massey portrays her character as tough on the children, a rule follower and biased toward her troop but never one dimensional plus her dynamic with Viola Davis is amazing. Jim Gaffigan as Christmas’ father is loving, struggling but there for his daughter, willing to fight for her. The children as all incredible, each displaying strength and courage in their characterizations, talented and creative in their portrayals. Not one performance misses a beat.
In fact, not one aspect of this movie misses for me. While it may not resonate with the popular kids, anyone who was a misfit or different will fall in love with this film, much like I did. And even if you don’t love every character, there is a character for you to love as each child has their moment to shine on camera. If you loved the Goonies or Bad News Bears, this is the type of movie that will be perfect for you. It is about friendship, love, fighting against the bullies, and I think we all need more movies that celebrate diversity.
Rating: 5 shooting stars out of 5.
Twitter: Troop Zero