Hollywood has always loved stories of misfits, underdogs and outsiders. It’s a well-used but popular motif that can be incredibly moving and wonderful to watch when done well, such as “The Goonies.”
So, when I saw Amazon Original “Troop Zero” streaming, I decided to give it a go. The movie looked cute and starred both Viola Davis and Allison Janney. It had to be good, right?
It’s the story of a little girl growing up in rural 1970s Georgia. Christmas (McKenna Grace) is an odd child who dreams about life on other planets and watches the stars each night. She doesn’t have many friends, but she has plenty of tormentors who bully her for being different and call her a “bed-wetter.” They pick on her only friend, Joseph (Charlie Shotwell), too, calling him “girl-boy” due to his effeminate ways.
The local mean girls are all Birdie Scouts and preparing for the Birdie Jamboree, a talent show all troops compete in. When a representative from NASA arrives in town with the announcement that the jamboree winner will be included on a recording sent to space. Christmas is determined to win, but of course, the girls won’t let her in their troop.
This brings us to the classic trope: forming a band of misfits. Christmas and Joseph recruit other outcasts to form a troop, including Hell-No (Milan Ray), Smash (Johanna Colón) and Anna-Claire (Bella Higginbotham). Hell-No is a bully, too, collecting kids’ lunch money and other “taxes.” Smash growls a lot and, well, smashes things. (I think she has three words of dialogue total). And then there’s Anna-Claire, a one-eyed lover of the Lord. Together, the five children make up Troop Zero.
Their troop mother is Rayleen (Davis), a secretary who works for Christmas’ dad, Ramsey (Jim Gaffigan), a widower attorney who wants to help everyone, payment or not. Rayleen and Ramsey run the office out of the latter’s trailer, which is exactly as sad as you’d expect.
Rayleen once dreamed of going to law school, but now she’s a secretary to a man who can’t afford to pay her and a troop mother to a bunch of kids she doesn’t want to lead.
To cut this short, each member of Troop Zero must earn a badge in order to be eligible for the Jamboree. To do this, they must overcome their own fears, local bullies and other obstacles. Ultimately, they end up at the Jamboree, but I’ll leave what happens next to those of you who choose to view the film.
“Troop Zero” has a great premise. I love the idea of a little girl who dreams of going to the stars. A big theme throughout the movie is that science isn’t for girls. The NASA rep tries to explain the awesomeness of life on other planets, and the mean girls don’t care. Their troop leader, Miss Massey (Janney) even comments “They’re girls” to explain their disinterest. Again and again, the idea is hammered home that class, wealth and beauty are the most important things a woman can have. Yes, Christmas tries to combat that idea, but the misfit characters just never seem to connect or hammer home the amazingness of being unique or different.
And that’s the problem. “Troop Zero” has a great concept because we all love rooting for the underdog. Unfortunately, the individual characters, including Christmas, aren’t really developed here. There are little bits of goodness, such as a sweet moment when Hell-No supports Christmas through a difficult time in her badge-getting efforts. We see glimpses of something interesting about each of the troop member, but ultimately, we don’t root for the troop because they’re a lovable group of kids. No, we root for them because we want to see the mean kids lose. The end result is the same, but it’s a bit underwhelming.
After all, you want to root for something, not against it. And, that’s the problem here. I didn’t find much to root for.