There is a subgenre that the Sundance film festival has created. It all started with Little Miss Sunshine, a fine film that has spawned a whole series of movies centered around quirky outsiders learning to be themselves. This theme is a worthy one for a film to explore and yet increasingly, this subgenre seems to be running thin on emotional wallop and is gluttonous with quirk. Troop Zero is proof of this.
The film is populated with talented actors who are forced to play broad caricatures of what could be real people. There is an emptiness to the film as a result. The characters feel created with good intentions but constructed in a way to manipulate the viewer. They serve only to induce a reaction as the film predictably moves towards a deeply saccharine ending.
Troop Zero is about Christmas Flint, see what I mean about the quirkiness. Christmas (Mckenna Grace) is a 9-year-old girl who is far too odd to be popular or accepted. Her best friend is Joseph (Charlie Shotwell), a David Bowie loving boy who would much rather be a girl hairdresser. Christmas is fascinated by space. Her mother passed away when she was younger and she believes she lives among the stars now. Her dad (Jim Gaffigan in a "big" performance) tries to raise her to his best abilities.
One day a NASA employee arrives to let them know that one Birdie troop team will have a chance at being recorded on a Golden Record that will be sent into space. Christmas wants nothing more than to be on that record and so puts together a team of her own in hopes of becoming a Birdie. Viola Davis, who works for her dad, reluctantly agrees to lead the team. The rest of the film deals with them meeting the qualifications in order to have a chance at winning the Birdie Jamboree and a chance to be recorded for space.
Directors Bert & Bertie don't have a distinct enough style to set the film apart from countless other films of this kind. The film is largely carried by Davis. She is a great actor who brings so much to any performance and in Troop Zero, she brings a welcomed realness. Her performance is the only natural thing in the film. Allison Janney plays the rival troop leader and the two share a few fun moments together. It is a shame they aren't given more moments to trade quips as the two seasoned actors seem to be having a good time together.
What makes Troop Zero a bigger disappointment rather than just forgettable early-year fare is that it is written by Lucy Alibar. Alibar wrote Beasts of the Southern Wild, a remarkable film about a young girl who is trying to find her place in the world. The script has hints of deeper themes in it. Christmas is breaking a family trajectory by forging her own path. There could be some real heft to this but the film is too calculated in its desire to please. As a result, Troop Zero is a wasted opportunity of a film and totally forgettable.