An out-of-this-world story from 1970s Georgia.
Streaming on Amazon | 2020 | PG | 1h 37m
Genre: Comedy Why We Watched: My Mama recommended this movie to me, and it was all the push I needed to follow through on watching it—I had seen previews a while back and was interested. It was perfect for a low-key movie night with a bestie. (Hi, Jade!)
This movie hit me right in the feels, largely due to the heartbreakingly sweet performance of breakout child star Mckenna Grace. You might remember her as young Tonya Harding in I, Tonya (2017) or young Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel (2019), and she looks a lot like a young, waif-like Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men, Sabrina). The point is that Mckenna has a very familiar look, but her performance in Troop Zero is anything but ordinary. Mckenna—who at 13 years old looks to be about 9—stars as Christmas Flint, a tiny, goofy misfit girl who stumbles along in her shiny red kneehigh rain boots through the backcountry of Georgia. Christmas is adorably obsessed with outer space. She spends her afternoons checking out the local library's collection on the cosmos. She spends her nights staring up at the sky wearing a colander-turned-space hat and using her flashlight to "signal the aliens," like her mama taught her. Her mama isn't around anymore, though. She died. And when she died, she became part of the stars, according to Christmas's dad (Jim Gaffigan). That's comforting to Christmas, since she knows for a fact that sound bites travel forever out into the universe, so she can communicate with her mama just by speaking to the night sky. When a man from NASA comes to town, deployed by Jimmy Carter to his native Georgia to recruit the "voice of America" for the Voyager Golden Record he's sending to space, Christmas leaps—literally leaps from a tree!—at the chance to compete for this honor. She wants her voice to be the one on the Golden Record because that's a surefire way to make sure her mama hears her message. In order to make that happen, she's got to win the talent show at the Birdie Scouts' annual Jamboree. And in order to do that, she's got to BE a Birdie Scout. But the Birdies, led by mean old Miss Massey (Allison Janney), are themselves mean girls who taunt Christmas for "peeing herself" and shove the undersized girl into a locker. They outright reject her request to join the troop, so Christmas endeavors to start her own, recruiting her best friend Joseph, a "sparkly girlboy"; Smash, a non-verbal wrecking ball of a girl; and Hell-No Price, the boldest bully around with "the ferocity of a T-rex and twice the appetite." Miss Rayleen (Viola Davis), Christmas's dad's paralegal and an "intergalactic warrior" in her own right, chaperones Troop Zero on their quest to earn a badge a piece to qualify for the jamboree. Troop Zero is like an impressionistic painting: heavy on affect, vague on details. There are many backstories—say, Miss Rayleen's and Miss Massey's history together—that are frustratingly un-teased out, and the complexities of race relations in the Deep South in the '70s are basically ignored. But then again, the feel of this movie—the story, the acting, the costumes, the sweetly improbable plot—is so effective and moving that I forgave it instantly for holding out on the details that I craved. It's true that I might be especially susceptible to its charms as a girl who grew up in rural Georgia (and who was, more or less, a failed Girl Scout). But then again I'm guessing that Troop Zero's performance at the Jamboree could move anybody to happy tears. Watch it and let me know, won't you? Happy streaming! Grace