Premise: In rural 1977 Georgia, a misfit girl dreams of life in outer space. When a competition offers her a chance to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troop of Birdie Scouts, forging friendships that last a lifetime.
Troop Zero is a well-meaning and sugary sweet story of accepting and celebrating who you are and finding that special community of people who will embrace your quirks and support you. Its focus is on Christmas Flint (McKenna Grace), who has recently lost her mother and finds comfort in looking to the stars. Her leadership in forming a troop so she can get her voice on NASA’s Golden Record is the film’s strongest asset. However, the rest of the troop members’ journeys don’t quite connect to hers, much to the detriment of the overall story.
Despite touching on themes of grief and loss of identity, Troop Zero is more about social acceptance and overcoming shortcomings to become the best version of yourself. These are hefty themes to explore and, to the film’s credit, it handles them fairly well. However, the impetus for Christmas’ desire to win the jamboree is her connection to space and the loss of her mother. There is some service paid to that connection and the film does touch on her bond with her father (Jim Gaffigan) here and there. But the story and its themes could have used much more development in that department. The result is a bit of a misstep when it comes to the father/daughter relationship and the grief that Christmas feels over the loss of her mother.
Allison Janney sleepwalks through her role of evil head of the competing troop, Miss Massey. Whereas Troop Zero’s troop mother is Viola Davis’ Miss Rayleen. The two troop mothers butt heads throughout the film (as do the troops themselves) but it’s never really that interesting or compelling. When Miss Massey uses something from the past to call Miss Rayleen’s status as troop mother into question, it sends Miss Rayleen into a choice and action that is entirely based on what the plot needs rather than anything organic to the character. It feels awkward and stagey.
Likewise, when the tension between the two troops reaches a boiling point, Troop Zero is slapped with a suspension. The problem is it’s not made clear what the suspension means for the members of Troop Zero or their efforts to earn badges. In fact, it felt like the scene was added later to manufacture tension that ultimately does nothing to effect the stakes or the plot.
The bond among the troop members is solid. Yet, it really comes down to seeing how much fun kid actors are having acting in the film. For the most part, all of the child actors perform well. It’s just that the script doesn’t give them much off of which to act. It’s delightful to see a group of misfits embrace the things that others use to try to bring them down. There’s no doubting that. There’s just a little bit of drama missing from the members of Troop Zero and it makes the film feel uneven.
Though it has its charms, ultimately Troop Zero doesn’t have much of anything profound to say despite flirting with topics like grief and surrogate parenting. Instead, it’s just a sweet, paint by numbers story with some decent performances and a less than stellar script wrapped around a positive message. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Troop Zero. Unfortunately, there is not much that’s memorable about it either.
About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll.