Sundance 2019: "Troop Zero" Review

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Troop Zero is much like it’s main character, Christmas (McKenna Grace),it’s sweet, it’s heart is in the right place, but something is just a bit off. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the movie centers around standing your ground and being your oddball self even if the world doesn’t understand you. It’s saccharin, it’s formulaic, but sometimes a little sugar is good for the soul.

The world is a big place and space is even more vast, and Christmas dreams of exploring it. The only issue is she’s living in rural Wiggly, Georgia in 1977. She’s the kid in town that the older folks may say “bless her heart” as she runs by in oversized boots, and one leg that’s shorter than the other. She’s used to getting picked on, but somehow keeps a smile on her face. Which is why when she has the opportunity to have her voice projected into space by NASA through the Birdie (think Girl Scouts) Jamboree, she assembles a ragtag group of misfits from the neighborhood.

Christmas’s quickly enlists the help of her father Ramsey’s (Jim Gaffigan) secretary, Rayleen (Viola Davis) as troop mother. The newly minted group named Troop Zero includes: Hell-No (Milan Ray) the bully who wants the burn the world down because she doesn’t believe she’ll ever have anything beautiful, Smash (Johanna Colon) Hell-No’s muscle, the “girl/boy” Joseph (Charlie Shotwell), and the devout Christian, Anne-Claire (Bella Higginbotham). It’s no surprise that in a film like this, Troop Zero has to overcome challenges in the form of getting badges, and then go against the reigning champions in their town led by Miss Massey (Allison Janney) to win the contest.

This is one of those films where you know what it’s trying to do with your emotions as the kids’ chemistry on camera shines whether they’re facing challenges or triumphantly standing up for one another. The soundtrack of the film rocks, with songs like “Rocket Man”, “Little Green Bag” and more. Screenwriter Lucy Alibar keeps bumping the record player though with repetitive reminders throughout the film that Troop Zero should “find that life gets easier if you don’t want so much”. This film would have been much better if the viewers were allowed to catch the message without it being hammered home.

In the end, Troop Zero has some very touching moments that you may want a tissue nearby while burning some calories laughing in the next moment. McKenna Grace carries the film as Christmas. Her goofy smirk, giggle, and character choices feel so authentic that it’s obvious she’s a child actor who is gifted beyond her years. However, all of the sweetness in this movie can’t mask the fact that you want to yell “we get it!” just as the misfits yell “we’re here!” to the stars. 

Rating: C+