‘Troop Zero’ a joyful celebration of originality 

From directors Bert and Bertie and screenwriter Lucy Alibar comes the sweet and smart comedy Troop Zero, streaming on Amazon Prime Video January 17. This delightful feature not only celebrates originality as a theme for its memorable characters, but also sends a message to the audience about the value of completely original stories – especially for kids. 

McKenna Grace (I, Tonya, Gifted) stars as Christmas Flint, a lonely nine-year-old with a fascination for outer space. She would rather communicate with life on other planets than bother with the residents of her small Georgia town, where no one seems to care about the same things she does. (Except maybe Joseph (Charlie Shotwell), her “boy/girl” best friend who loves musicals, David Bowie and hairdressing far more than football.) 

When the opportunity to send a recorded message to outer space through a NASA program arises for Birdie Scouts in her hometown, Christmas sets out to form her own troop of misfits and finally send a real message out into the galaxy. These unlikely recruits must prove their worth as Birdie Scouts, earning badges for baking, endurance, selling cookies and surviving the wilderness. They quickly learn what makes each of them unique, finding joy in the qualities that the world told them were too strange to be worth celebrating. 

Oscar winners Viola Davis and Allison Janney star as vastly different troop leaders: Davis leads the quirky group of personalities who call themselves Troop Zero, teaching them to love themselves and their accomplishments; Janney is the prim and proper leader of Troop Five, full of preteen mean girls who aren’t interested in space and bully Christmas and her friends with cruel jokes. Both women create funny, compelling characters who look and sound familiar; like their words were taken directly from the mothers and aunts and teachers in our own lives.

Alibar’s delightful narrative is centered entirely on fun and friendship, and how combining the two can help young people find their footing. Despite its cast of promising young actors playing incredibly funny and realistic characters, the message of Troop Zero will resonate with outcasts of any age. It’s an entirely original family film not weighed down by artificial obstacles or gross-out humor. Without animation or dumbed-down storylines, Troop Zero is a rare feature that manages to be about kids, while sending a mature and heartfelt message about staying true to yourself. Alibar and directing team Bert & Bertie clearly subscribe to the belief laid out by author Judy Blume: “When we’re writing for kids, we’re not an adult telling a story about being a kid – we are that kid.”

Told largely through Christmas’ eyes and voiceover, and carried admirably by Grace, special Sundance favorite Troop Zero is essentially about how one lonely girl uses friendship and her own unique gifts to look differently at the world – and the universe beyond it. “Can you see us better when we’re together like this?” Christmas asks the universe, whoever may be listening. “Is our signal stronger? I think it is.” It certainly is.

© Georgiana E. Presecky (1/10/20) FF2 Media

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