Monday, February 17, 2020

Troop Zero: Fun Family Scouting Romp

Movie Review: Troop Zero (2019)
Version: Amazon Prime

Rag-tag team. Group of misfits with a dream. Underdogs. You name the euphemism for a group of kids who are set up to never fit in and that describes Troop Zero. But you come to love them and root for them as they latch on to Miss Rayleen (Viola Davis) as their scout leader in pursuit of badges and jamboree honors -- so Christmas Flint (McKenna Grace) can realize her dream of having her voice on NASA's gold record to be sent out into space. That's the main plot of this uneven family comedy about kids fighting economic inequality in the deep south, poking fun at lots of cultural stereotypes at the same time.

The name Troop Zero comes from the only number left in a town full of Birdie scout troops all competing for jamboree honors. It also fits the town's attitude toward the disadvantaged individuals in the troop, all who come from the poorer side of town, led by Christmas who lives with her single dad, a hopelessly loser lawyer down on his abilities and his ambitions. Christmas gathers the minimum number of scouts for her troop from among the sordid kids she plays with or who pick on her, including downer Hell-No Price (Milan Ray). To fill out the crew, they must finally bring in Christmas's best friend, sports-unfriendly boy-suspected-of-being-a-girl Joseph (Charlie Shotwell) -- well, nothing in the rules say a boy can't be a Birdie scout! There, and a few more rangy, gangly, untalented kids, is your troop.

Their main opponent is Miss Massey (Allison Janney), a miss-goody-two-shoes whose own daughter is in the forever-winning troop. Miss Massey fights the entry of Troop Zero but eventually gives in, sure the misfits will never fit in and never amount to much (said with a too-sweet southern drawl). But just to show them she's right, she "helps" them get started. And so, the battle between Miss Massey and Christmas Flint ensues.

The Troop Zero kids' families take interest and support builds as the kids begin earning badges and the kids form friendships and a sense of team. Even Hell-No. By the end of the movie, even Miss Massey feels a sense of admiration. You will, too. You'll even enjoy a lot of laughs, often at the expense of Miss Massey and her too-perfect kids.

Viola Davis shines as the reluctant and exasperated scout leader, Allison Janney is delicious as the scheming protective scout master. But the one who makes the movie is McKenna Grace, who is cute and energetic and winsome in every way as the eager child with stars in her eyes. Milan Ray is a lot of fun as the street bully turned team player.

Troop Zero reminds me a lot of Because of Winn-Dixie (2005) and McKenna Grace reminds me a lot of AnnaSophia Robb, who played Opal in it. In some ways, she also reminds me of a very young Dakota Fanning. Let's hope we see a lot more of her in future films.

This is mostly a kid's film, but it makes for a great family movie. It's rated PG for thematic elements, language, and smoking throughout. Everyone camp out together over a fun scouting romp.

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