After its premiere at Sundance Film Festival, in early 2019, Troop Zero went on to screen at a couple of American film festivals, until it premiered just recently on Amazon’s streaming service, Prime Video. It tells the story of a misfit girl in rural 1977 Georgia, who dreams of life in outer space. When a competition offers her a chance to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troop of Birdie Scouts, forging friendships that last a lifetime.
Bert & Bertie‘s (pseudonym for director’s duo Katie Ellwood and Amber Templemore-Finlayson) feature film debut plays it very safe as a feel good film. There’s a few outbursts of pure heart, with an edge, but most of the story feels just a bit too familiar. It does have the benefit of being set in the ’70s in the deep South, where women’s rights and religion don’t always go hand in hand. These subjects get handled in a very direct and sometimes frustrating way, especially when it comes to kids bullying each other for being “different”.
McKenna Grace (Annabelle Comes Home) leads our troop of Birdie Scouts as the quirky and optimistic Christmas Flint. Her mannerisms and looks are reminiscent of a young Dakota Fanning, always pushing to bring different sides to her character and fully giving in to her emotions. She’s in the great company of Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder) as Miss Rayleen, a pessimist who’s had to deal with her share of setbacks while growing up, and who pushes this group of kids to come out of their shell and step up against the expected norms of society. It’s wonderful to see her character develop throughout the course of the story. This is the case with most main characters in the film and shows great craftsmanship from writer Lucy Alibar. Davis, who also produced the film, is here to support this group of young actors and sort of helps them shine – shining the spotlight on them. A very noble and charismatic side we haven’t seen of her, since she’s usually such a powerhouse who owns every scene she’s in. Another standout, as usual, is Allison Janney (Mom). She doesn’t bring anything new to her already impressive resume, as the condescendingly uptight Miss Massey, who’s Miss Rayleen’s direct adversary for reasons that become clear later on in the film, but she’s just born to play these kinds of highly entertaining parts. Especially the scenes where Davis and Janney go head-to-head, are some of the most engaging ones.
The music being used in Troop Zero, is of great significance. Songs such as David Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’, Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ and Elvis Presley’s ‘I’m Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs’, are there to lift up these young characters’ spirits and help them express their feelings. Lucy Alibar‘s (Beasts of the Southern Wild) screenplay has a clear message of acceptance, encouragement and friendship, that personifies itself in unique ways through each character of our troop.
Troop Zero is perfect for streaming giant Prime Video. It’s one of those family crowdpleasers you can watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon, while tearing up in its final scenes, knowing you’ve seen it all before, but you’re a sucker for these kind of feel good empowering stories. Nonetheless, a highly entertaining film to lift up your spirit, when you’re feeling a bit blue yourself.
Prime Video Review – ‘Troop Zero’
Reviewed on Prime Video, Sydney, Jan. 21, 2020. Australian Classification: PG. Running time: 98 min.
PRODUCTION: An Amazon Studios presentation of an Escape Artists, Zhiv, Juvee production. Producers: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch, Alex Siskin, Viola Davis. Executive producers: David Bloomfield, Jenny Hinkey, Lucy Alibar.
CREW: Directed by Bert & Bernie. Screenplay: Lucy Alibar. Camera (color): James Whitaker. Editor: Catherine Haight. Music: Rob Lord.
WITH: Mckenna Grace, Viola Davis, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Charlie Shotwell, Milan Ray, Johanna Colon, Bella Higginbotham, Mike Epps.