Film & Television

Fabulous Actresses Save the Messy Movie
‘Troop Zero’

When people find out that I write movie reviews, some common questions arise. Do I get to interview famous people? Rarely. Do I go to premieres? Even more rarely. What’s the best movie you’ve reviewed? That one’s tough. What’s your favorite movie you’ve reviewed? 

That one’s easy. Gifted.

Gifted wasn’t nominated for Academy Awards or Golden Globes. It received only 73 percent out of a possible 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes (a passing grade, but not much more). It made $43 million internationally (about 20 percent of the same year’s Wonder Woman). But it was my favorite film of 2017 and remains a favorite two and a half years later. Gifted was a neatly crafted and satisfyingly predictable film. It confirmed that it’s better to be happy than gifted. (Hell, it confirmed that all the swooning around Captain America‘s handsome hero Chris Evans was justified.) But, most importantly, it introduced us to the phenomenal young talent: McKenna Grace.

Grace, who had more than two dozen minor credits before wowing us all as the lead in Gifted, followed that star-making role with a handful of horror films, recurring roles on TV series, and a brief but memorable cameo as young Tonya Harding in I, Tonya.  Now she’s starring in the Amazon original film Troop Zero.

Troop Zero premiered at Sundance a year ago. Despite its illustrious cast — Grace is joined by Viola Davis, Allison Janney, and Jim Gaffigan; Oscar-nominated screenwriter Lucy Alibar (Beasts of the Southern Wild); and buzz-inducing directorial duo “Bert and Bertie” — the film was acknowledged by some to be derivative at best and a hot mess at worst. The reaction (not completely unfair) was probably why Amazon chose to run it as a Prime selection on their subscription streaming service, rather than release it theatrically.

If you remember The Bad News Bears, Stand by Me, Moonrise Kingdom, and countless other misfit-coming-of-age stories, you can pretty much predict the premise, payoff, and entire dramatic arc of Troop Zero. If you loved the movies I just mentioned, you’ll probably catch yourself smiling — at least after the first twenty or so confusing and rather sloppy minutes. Once Troop Zero finds its groove, it’s hard not to root for Grace and her band of outcasts.

The year is 1977, and Grace plays Christmas Flint, a bright but bullied little girl from the wrong side of the tracks of the delightfully named Wiggly, Georgia. She wears oversized red rubber boots and her long blond hair is unruly. She’s threatened with violence by local hoodlum “Hell-no” and her sidekick thug “Smash.” Her only friend is the flamboyant “girl-boy” Joseph, who is even more of a target. The richer, mean girls of the town taunt Christmas as a bed-wetter with names like, “Betsy Wetsy.” When they cut off one of her braids and shove her into a locker, she’s rescued by Principal “Nasty Miss Massey” (Janney, prissy perfection in every scene), who proceeds to lecture her on why she should try harder — not so much to fit in as to accept her place.

Christmas’s mom has recently died. Her father, Ramsey (Gaffigan), is a de facto (and rarely compensated) public defender for seemingly all of the tenants of their scrappy trailer park. He’s a loving but scattered dad. Christmas looks to his assistant, the sarcastic Miss Rayleen (Davis), for support. But Rayleen has her own problems, and Christmas spends her free time lying on the roof, flashing lights to the night sky, looking for a sign from extraterrestrials. Or maybe, her mother.

“I am Christmas Flint, human female,” she tells anyone who might be out there listening, “I think you’d like me. I think you’d wanna be my friend.”

Christmas’s life seems hopelessly Earthbound until she overhears that a scientist from NASA will be attending the Birdy Girls’ (read Girl Scouts, but with a heaping helping of gentility and aspiring Southern belle) annual Jamboree. One lucky troop will be selected to record their voices on the golden record being sent into space. Christmas is inspired, but the local troop won’t have her (in fact, her overeager request prompts the locker incident). Determined, Christmas puts together a rag-tag team including Joseph (nothing in the handbook says that Birdy Girls have to actually be girls), Hell-No, Smash, and a one-eyed born-again Christian named Anne-Claire. Christmas enlists the aid of Rayleen as troop mother. 



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