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Troop Zero

by Kitty Drexel
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Jan 17, 2020
'Troop Zero'
'Troop Zero'  

"Troop Zero" is a wholesome, intersectional feminist movie for the whole family that tackles race and class issues while empowering girls. Bert & Bertie (aka The Berts, "Dance Camp") direct the script by Lucy Alibar ("Beasts of the Southern Wild") for Amazon Studios. It is a movie about the audacity of the human spirit as much as it is about empowering girls to study STEM disciplines.

It is 1977 in Wiggly, Georgia. Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace) is a tomboy who loves planetary science. When she isn't pretending to be a space explorer in her front yard, her favorite activity is to sit under the stars at night and send messages with a flashlight to potential alien friends. When she learns that the first prize of the prim and proper Birdie Scout Jamboree talent contest is adding her voice to NASA's Golden Record, Christmas and her best friend Joseph (sincere youngster Charlie Shotwell) enlist the other school outsiders to form their own Birdie Scout troupe. Together with their Scout Mama Miss Rayleen (Viola Davis), these scouts clash against racial, financial and social stigmas to take over the talent show. Jim Gaffigan plays Christmas's clueless but sincere father. Allison Janney rounds out the cast as Principal Massey.

Gaffigan and Davis have surprisingly good chemistry. It helps that Alibar has written a strong, compassionate script that doesn't rely on gender and racial stereotypes but on truthful, realistic dialogue. We believe in equal amounts that Gaffigan loves his daughter but is at a loss on how to raise her alone. Davis brings as much edge to Miss Rayleen as she does her other roles. These two adults are facing poverty in 1977's rural Georgia. Alibar's writing doesn't shy away from hard truths. It doesn't assume children aren't capable of strength either.

The character Joseph is an effeminate boy with no self-preservation. No one says that Joesph is gay but Joseph's entire character arc is set up to strongly suggest with a doubt that he is. Joseph is caught in the middle of the '70's gender war: the boys think he's a girl; girls won't accept him because he's a boy. Christmas is his only friend.

Early in the movie, we meet Joseph in a brief scene in which his father (Kenneth Wayne Bradley) is playing football with Joseph. Joseph would rather swish his pompoms made of t-shirts than run laps with his dad. Both dad and Rayleen regretfully say that Joseph needs to be a fast runner. The scene's derelict trailer park setting and relaxed, colloquial dialogue imply Joseph will be bullied for being different.

A viewer expects Joseph's introductory scene to introduce us to Wiggle's toxic masculinity. Instead, we learn that Joseph's Dad loves his gay son without reservation. In a separate scene, we see Dad and Joseph gleefully dance to the radio. They are celebrating. Dad leans in for a big hug which Joesph returns.

The filmmakers buck the status quo by showing us that loving your gay child is normal and good. In a change for the positive, "Troop Zero" is a movie in which the effeminate, gay minor mustn't battle his father's self-hatred to standout in the film. Joseph is allowed to self-actualize on the same level as his troopmates.

David Bowie fans will be tickled pink to note that three of Bowie's tunes appear in the film. "Rebel Rebel," "Starman," and "Space Oddity" play during three separate points. It's a fitting tribute to the glam rock god who introduced us to the possibilities of genderqueer identity.

"Troop Zero" is a kid's movie. Adults will enjoy it as well as kids because of the script's consideration for its emotional complexity. It runs 98 minutes.

"Troop Zero"
Directed by Bert & Bertie
Written by Lucy Alibar
Amazon Studios
Starring Viola Davis, Mckenna Grace, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Epps and Allison Janney
Released on Jan. 17, 2020 on Amazon


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