A poor group of kids in 70's Georgia form an off-brand troop of girl scouts.
Directed by Bert and Bertie
Starring Mckenna Grace, Viola Davis, and Allison Janney
Review by Jon Kissel
Troop Zero has so many identifiers of young adult fiction that it becomes about everything and nothing at the same time. Its protagonist (Mckenna Grace), from the poor side of town, is also grappling with the recent death of her mother. She’s got an effeminate friend, though for the inhabitants of a poor Georgia town in the 70’s, they aren’t nearly as cruel to him as they could be. The film takes place in a diverse community, again odd for mid-century Georgia, and there’s no hint of racial discontent. Black and white people are poor, and black and white people live in middle class homes. Throw in issues of conformity, girls in STEM, and a genderqueer pop icon, and the film is both of the current moment and out of its own moment. I can again appreciate the placement of the Golden Record as the reason for the period setting, but outside of the tiresome local dialect and verbiage, this film’s sense of place is toothless and empty. Family friendly films frequently have cruelty in them and lose nothing for it. Troop Zero is cuddly finna’s and catchphrases.
That said, I’ve got nothing against slobs versus snobs stories, or at least when the slobs are kids in the Bad News Bears vein. When Troop Zero is working, it’s doing so off the strength of the relationships between the kids, particularly Grace’s Christmas and local bully Hell-No (Milan Ray). While these could be better acted, as it’s hard enough for kids to be authentic without also putting on a heavy accent, the writing and the earnestness in the delivery covers up any glaring holes. I’ll even admit to tearing up in the final scene, wherein the kids all yell at passing meteors that they’re here, existing in their Georgia backwater despite their less-than-ideal circumstances. Troop Zero has enough charm and affection for its characters to make it into an acceptable vehicle for generic messages about inclusivity and friendship. I would prefer to see Davis bring down the house in something more worthy of her talents, but not everyone can fill their resume up with Doubts and Widows’s. C+