"Troop Zero" by Bert and Bertie

By Christopher Alexander

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      There are movies of all kinds. Some leave you in tears, some leave you speechless while some leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Troop Zero is a film that finds it's way into your heart with a little weapon named Christmas  Flint, a young girl looking to make friends while leaving an impact in history by entering a competition where she might get the chance to have her voice recording played and launched into space on the infamous Voyager spacecraft (that's a mouthful). The film is obviously set in 1977 in a small town in Georgia, and while the film has moments that detract from the overall warmth, and at times even make you cringe, the directing and cinematography capture a warmth in a film that is otherwise underscored with themes of loneliness and loss. 

     The way the film is shot is a very popular golden-hour style that seems to encapsulate the essence of the deep south with its rich yellows and vibrant greens. The mise-en-scene lends itself to further selling not only the time period it is based in, but in also creating the low-income world that our protagonist, Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace), lives in. From beginning to end, the camera angles and composition tell the story of a young girl fascinated by space, alone and friendless, but done so with the color palette and intimacy that only a child's vision can deliver. We care for this young girl who's lost her mother, but in showing us the brutal reality of her financially struggling father, instead of feeling sorry for her we are put on her team.  With the clever use of comedy and light-hearted quirkiness, paired with the lighting and at times magical cinematography, the film delivers a well done emotionally touching story of a father and daughter in a movie that is amateur in almost every other sense. 

   

    While the cinematography is noteworthy, the writing is where the film really excels. The movie builds the story quickly with very little dialogue needed as we learn that Christmas and her friend, Joseph, are both black sheep that are looked at strangely by the other kids of the small rural town. We connect with the characters even more as we watch her get bullied by the troop that wouldn't take her as part of their team, cutting her hair, and her hiding the fact that she was bullied from her father. There is even a tender moment when Joseph tells them "just tell her she looks nice!" and all the while, does Christmas lose that spark of light in her? Hell no she doesn't. In fact, she takes it as a sign that she just needs to get her own team together, the hopeful giddiness in her burning as brightly as ever. Where the film does a good job portraying the two lead friends, it lacks in delivering relatable stories for the rest. Now while the story may seem like it's about a young girl obsessed with space travel, we learn early in the film that following the passing of her mother, Christmas' father, or the "bossman" as he's known around town respectfully (played by comedian Jim Gaffigan), told her that her mother had been "turned into stars and comets" and as such, the story reaches a much deeper connection with the competition forming  a sort of bond in which Christmas can get closer to her now deceased mother. The plot develops pretty much as expected from there, with Christmas finding a ragtag group of "friends" that soon learn to work together after some set-backs, a teacher trying to break the group apart, and a food fight.  But in the end the group makes it to the competition after earning their badges against all odds thanks to Miss Rayleen, brilliantly played by Viola Davis, the unwilling mother-figure of the film that seems to fill the void that Christmas feels. All in all, the film begins real character development but only seems to deliver on a handful of them, with many of the supporting roles being pushed under the rug, some barely speaking at all (I'm looking at you, Smash). But even so, the movies main themes of overcoming loss, going against the grain, and finding friendship in those you'd least expect, are themes that we understand well, especially when delivered through the eyes of a child.   

     The film uses some classic songs from the era, mostly David Bowie (of course) to not just paint the idea of the 70's a little more, but to further the idea of these unique souls having come together in a competition that was designed for cookie cutter children. When not using famous rock songs, the directors pull at our heartstrings with a subtle score that is used to highlight the real heartwarming scenes and moments of tenderness and human emotion between the group. 

     

     Overall, the film is one that's worth watching, especially if you have young ones at home. Your heart will melt at some of the scenes that remind you what it's like to be a fragile young kid in a world that's built to tear you apart and turn you into an adult made to follow protocol. But while Christmas and her friends deliver great performances, the movies cringey scenes, such as the pants-wetting moment, pull you out of the story in a way that feels like a disservice to an otherwise emotionally impactful ending. It is definitely a movie with all the bells and whistles of a film that could be a classic in the same grouping as films like "The Goonies", "Stand By Me," and more, it lacks the polish while delivering all the charm. I would still highly recommend the film if you're able to enjoy it for what it is, a movie about youth and light in the face of a harsh world trying to take away the spark of joy.     

If your're interested, you can rent the movie 

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