Sundance 2019: Troop Zero

Allison Janney and Viola Davis appear in Troop Zero by Bert & Bertie, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Curtis Baker.

A young Georgia girl aims for the stars in the funny and poignant Troop Zero despite the odds being set against her every single step along the way.

Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace)–daughter of attorney Ramsey Flint (Jim Gaffigan)–has big dreams that lead to outer space.  We see this in the way that she looks up to the stars at night in 1977.  For now, she has to settle for just being a small town girl living in Wiggly, Georgia.  Christmas eavesdrops on a Birdie Scout troop after climbing up in a tree upon being bullied.  This is when she learns that the annual Birdie Scout Jamboree talent contest winners will be featured in a record being sent to outer space.  The opportunity to have your voice go to outer space becomes a huge goal for the pre-teen.  How often does one get the opportunity to be on a record?  Not just any record but NASA’s Golden Record!

Reaching this lofty goal doesn’t come without a catch.  She has to find people to join the Scouts with her as Miss Massey (Allison Janney) won’t let her join otherwise.  Miss Massey is the leader of Troop Five but isn’t looking to recruit Christmas.  One of the first is her best friend, Joseph (Charles Shotwell).  Joseph isn’t exactly the type to come off as gender non-conforming.  In any event, they find a few others to join their troop, including Hell-No (Milan Ray), Smash (Johanna Colón), and Ann-Claire (Bella Higginbotham).  After finding friends, Christmas turns to her Ramsey’s office manager, Miss Rayleen (Viola Davis), to serve as their troop mother.  No matter what they do, Miss Massey will always come back with some sort of retort to knock them down.

Not one to give up, Troop Zero makes their way to the Birdie Scout Jamboree complete with a song-and-dance performance to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”  To say that it’s a rocking fun time would not be an understatement.  Speaking of, Bowie is heavy on the soundtrack.  Okay, not that heavy.  But his songs–including “Starman” and “Rebel Rebel”–are just a few of a rocking 1970s soundtrack.  In addition to Bowie, the soundtrack includes Aretha Franklin, Waylon Jennings, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.

Oscar-nominated screenwriter Lucy Alibar adapts the film from her own play, “Christmas and Jubilee Behold the Meteor Shower.”  The script is both funny and emotional.  Obviously grounded on the planet, the film uses NASA’s Golden Record as its main plot device.  In real life, the Golden Record was launched into space with Voyager 1 in 1977.

This is a film with a very young cast.  McKenna Grace reunites  with her I, Tonya mother Allison Janney.  The young actress was already a rising star after appearing in Gifted and I, Tonya.  She brings a lot of charm to the role of a pre-teen wanting to be anywhere else but here.  Some of these young children are appearing in their first feature films.  Johanna Colón–who plays Smash—is a scene-stealing gem of a discovery.  Having to act opposite the likes of Viola Davis, Allison Janney, and Jim Gaffigan is no easy task.  Yet they do so anyway with the energetic Bert & Bertie at the helm.  If the Q&A following the Sundance premiere was any indication, I’m sure that there was a lot of fun on set.  These two directors have a way of finding the energy in the room!

Taking us back to a different time and place, Troop Zero is a lot of fun.

DIRECTORS:  Bert & Bertie
CAST:  Viola Davis, Mckenna Grace, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Epps, Edi Patterson, Charles Shotwell, Milan Ray, Johanna Colón, Bella Higginbotham, and Allison Janney

Troop Zero held its world premiere as the Closing Night selection of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres section.  Amazon Studios will release the film in 2019. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.