“Troop Zero” review by Nate Blake

Troop Zero is distributed by Amazon Studios and began streaming last weekend. It tells the story of Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace), a young outcast who sets out on a quest to lead a group of misfits to victory at a talent show for Birdie Scout groups. The prize is to be able to make a voice recording that will be included on the Voyager Golden Records, which were included in the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. Christmas desperately wants her voice on the recordings. She hopes they will be heard by her deceased mom. Of course, her quest leads to lots of shenanigans and clashes with the rival local scout group.

The resulting film is much better than the plot summary and the central conflicts may lead you to believe. As someone who watches a lot of stuff on Amazon Prime Video, I was bombarded with ads for this movie the past couple weeks and I didn’t really know what to make of the featured clips. The cast, which also includes Viola Davis, Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan, seemed great, but the content in the trailers promoted more of the film’s weaker elements. There are definitely some plot points that don’t work. Most of them occur when trying to wring forced laughs out of the clashing scout groups. How many more food fights have to be put on film before we come to terms with the fact that food fights are cliché, unfunny and boring? Stop doing them.

Although there was some forced comedy that didn’t work, there were a lot of earned laughs and moments that were genuinely funny and touching. The script addresses bullying, sexism and the ways society pressures young women to conform in ways that make an impact without being heavy handed. First time directors Bert & Bertie, who I’ve tried to research since seeing the film and haven’t found much info on, get some really great performances out of the many young actors in the cast. The film also reunites Mckenna Grace and Allison Janney, who worked together in I, Tonya.

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Janney once again relishes being the villain and she’s great at it. Watching her and Viola Davis face off in a few scenes is fun, but every time the film pits females characters against each other, it’s in a thoughtful way that shows how much they have in common, but society has set them against each other by instilling unrealistic and unhealthy ideas of what it means to be a woman. The script, by Lucy Alibar, renders each character with unique traits and complex personalities. Even some of the scouts, who border on tropes, are rendered lovingly and not in a way that presents them as less. I remember being a child and watching films like The Goonies and The Big Green, where there was always the big kid or the farting kid (often they were the same) who had little else to do but to stink or be a walking fat joke. Some of that humor is definitely present in Troop Zero, but even the comic relief characters have more personality and aren’t included just to be shamed.

Troop Zero is certainly a film aimed at teen audiences, and it’s one of the better films aimed at that demographic I’ve seen recently. It’ll likely be a fun and rewarding watch for many adults too. The story, while not groundbreaking, is told well. The soundtrack is great. The ending is surprisingly moving and there’s some honest humor along the way. Amazon was wise to scoop this one up at Sundance last year.

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