Troop Zero

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Do words travel through the universe — and if so, does Christmas Flint’s (Mckenna Grace) late momma hear them? A representative of NASA, upon visiting her school, brings Christmas news of a local competition: first prize is a chance for a troop of Birdie Scouts to leave a message for the aliens on an intergalactic Golden Record. Of course, the Birdie Scouts would no sooner allow someone as scraggly as Christmas to join their ranks than the Girl Scouts of America would lend the filmmakers the use of their name. So it’s up to the enterprising grade-schooler to gather a group of mid-level misfits who can form a troop of their own. Her name is Grace, her performance an anything-but-graceful non-stop smile producer. As the girl with the left pigtail lopped off, the aptly named Christmas is so merry at the thought of winning recruits — even ones who outright refuse to refer to her as a friend — that she can’t suppress an infectiously wonky giggle. I could have stood more of Smash (Johanna Colón), a grunting Bluto of a lass who earned her nickname because, like the universe, she is “full of gas and mystery.” (Perhaps a spinoff is in the offing?) A running gag that tags Christmas as the class bedwetter, trapped deep in denial, builds enough consistent laughter to make its unexpected payoff all the more soothing. Troop Zero joins Drop Dead Gorgeous and Butter as one of the last vestiges of satire in contemporary comedy capable of simultaneously criticizing and embracing its characters with equal levels of depth, understanding, and hilarity. Admittedly, viewers could have done without the aboriginal use of slo-mo that proved the filmmakers capable of lobbing a softball (and out-of-place) Tarantino homage. And as the tippling schoolmarm/mentor/villainess in the piece, Allison Janney was presented with no new challenges. Recapping: the setting is the cutely-christened Wiggly, GA; the directors, a chichi-to-the-ear, no last names, please pair Bert & Bertie; and in the lead, one of the most improbably adorable child stars this side of Dakota Fanning. In spite of all the damning evidence working against the thing, you’ll have a ball watching it. With: Jim Gaffigan as Christmas’ single dad and (executive producer) Viola Davis as his secretary-cum-reluctant, chain-smoking troop leader. (2019) — Scott Marks

Rated PG | 1 hour, 34 minutes
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April 9, 2020

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