Diversity reigns in Amazon Prime’s latest original feature, “Troop Zero.” It reteams its producer and star, Academy Award winner Viola Davis (“Widows”), with her Oscar-winning pal Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”) for a troop-scout, coming-of-age story like few others.
The screenplay comes from Lucy Alibar, the Academy Award-nominated writer of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” As she did previously, Alibar taps into the wonder of childhood, following another impoverished young girl making her way through life’s mess and disappointment.
McKenna Grace has grown up before our very eyes, starring with Chris Evans in “Gifted,” playing a young Tonya Harding in “I, Tonya” alongside Janney and even Carol Danvers before she grew up to be “Captain Marvel.” With a color pallet similar to “Captain Fantastic” and sarcasm akin to “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Troop Zero” shows us family films can exist outside the Disney standard.
The trailer park of Wiggly, Georgia, is a curious place during the year of 1977. NASA is sending messages into space, and Christmas Flint (Grace) couldn’t be more interested. With no mother and a father (Jim Gaffigan) who hasn’t a clue how to parent, the preteen is left to her own devices and one friend, Joseph (Charlie Shotwell).
Christmas is known as Betsy-Wetsy at school for being a bedwetter, something she denies. When an opportunity arises for Troop Five, molded and led by the principal called Nasty Massey (Janney), to send a message into space, Christmas decides to form her own scout group.
Her father’s assistant Rayleen (Davis) is given the begrudging task, but anything worth doing is worth doing right, she says. After a misfit roundup group of girls, plus Joseph, Troop Zero is formed.
“Troop Zero” exists in a world without racism, sexism and prejudice. Joseph, who is nicknamed “Girly Boy,” is accepted, even championed by his redneck father. This story is aimed to inspire, not capture the reality of discourse occurring in the late ‘70s.
The characters are as colorful as the clothes they wear, their eccentricities worn like badges. Nicknames like “Sugar-Buger” and even the town’s name aim to draw in a young audience, slowly unfolding a plot and resolution that’s intended to inspire children and celebrate individual peculiarities.
Alibar’s script, combined with direction by first-time feature directors Katie Ellwood and Amber Templemore-Finlayson, modifies familiar tropes seen in male versions of similar stories into perspectives that are far more engaging.
The banter between “The Help” co-stars will be the highlight for adult viewers. Davis’ Miss Rayleen is comprised of familiar elements from classic characters in her filmography yet provides altogether different attributes.
Alibar flirts with the dreaded cliché of making women on opposing sides adversarial but instead finds the space between love and hate, providing one more positive antidote.
“Troop Zero” doesn’t reinvent the wheel nor does it create a new standard in the genre of coming-of-age films. The film isn’t without stereotypes and plot holes. What it does accomplish is proving that Amazon’s original films continue to function at a quality rate intent on inspiring while entertaining.
Final Thought: An inclusive family film where younger audiences are simultaneously inspired and entertained, while adults enjoy the sarcasm of Oscar winners Davis and Janney.