Troop Zero

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Troop Zero
"What really matters is the positive energy - from the scripting to the lively colour scheme, there's a sense of maximum fun being had by all concerned at all times." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Traditional comedy films for youngsters often on the odd kid out with an underdog makes good plotline, but lately there's been a welcome tendency to give enjoyable packs of oddballs centrestage - and Troop Zero march their way to the front of this year's family-friendly bunch.

This infectiously boisterous outing from female directing duo Bert and Bertie (or Amber Finlayson and Katie Ellwood to their mums) takes the sort of plot that has graced a million coming-of-agers and fills it full of fresh air - along with a healthy dose of feminism and even some science bits.

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Set in the town of Wiggly, Georgia, against the 1977 backdrop of NASA's creation of the Golden Record (for more on that check out [fiml]The Farthest[/film]) - which aimed to carry greetings from a range of people on Earth out to space - the action centres on the charmingly named Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace), who just happens to be obsessed with astronomy, not least because she thinks her dead mum is now among the stars.

Christmas lives with her dad (Jim Gaffigan), whose lawyer business is not exactly booming because his hard-up clients hardly ever pay, with a dollop of maternal tough love provided by her dad's secretary Rayleen (Viola Davis). When Christmas gets wind of a competition that will see a winning "birdie scouts" troop record one of the messages, she realises that the overly prissy existing town troop - led by Allison Janney's stuck-up Miss Massey - will never let her join, so she sets about getting her own gang together.

What follows is a familiar tale of bonding and adventure, as the group attempt to acquire the badges they need to take part in the jamboree contest, with Rayleen reluctantly co-opted in as their troop mother - "Will you lead us to glory?" asks Christmas in a typically passionate exchange.

Although Grace shines as brightly as any of the stars Christmas is fascinated by, the rest of the young cast are also terrific, from Johanna Colón, whose character is called Smash for good reason, to Milan Ray, who plays the bullying Hell-No and Charlie Sitwell as Christmas' David Bowie loving, non-conformist pal Joseph.

The inclusion of Joseph - who is also in the troop once the prove that it doesn't have to be all girls - is just one of the enjoyably progressive elements of Bert and Bertie's film that hinges throughout on acts of group solidarity rather than one person getting something over another.

The adults, although working with less are also impressive. Gaffigan, who could also be seen turning his hand at Sundance to melodrama in Them That Follow and subtle indie drama in Light From Light as well as this, the festival's closing night, let's the comedy flow here, while Davis proves to be just as deft with a comedy role as she is with heavy drama.

That the plot follows a simple arc is likely to be a welcome change for many family audiences - there's plenty of humour here for adults but children will find it enjoyably easy to keep up. But what really matters is the positive energy - from the scripting to the lively colour scheme, there's a sense of maximum fun being had by all concerned at all times. Christmas, in particular, is almost bursting with excitement - her enthusiasm barely contained - and that's infectious. Catch it.

Reviewed on: 14 Apr 2019
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A young girl founds a girl scout troop in a bit to win a NASA competition.

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