Maybe it's the fact that I've never had the initiative to become a scout of any sort that Troop Zero doesn't entirely work for me. Yet I can still find a little to relate to within the film's runtime. There's a wonderful message of bullying and unifying to make the world a little bit of a better place. However, the message is bogged down by a few misguided performances, and at times some pacing problems.
Directed by filmmaking duo Bert & Bertie (one of whom has a feature credit, the other having Troop Zero as their debut), show great promise here, however the story doesn't work as well as intended. I never went to camp, I didn't grow up in the south, and I certainly didn't go into scouts, so the only factor of this script I could relate to was the bullying (as a child I was bullied myself), so as far as the world they tried to place me in, I couldn't entirely relate. Even so, Troop Zero's lighthearted build up to conquer bullying missed the mark. However with the grim setting of the rural country, it forces you to take in the reality of it all. Kids suffer from bullying throughout every generation, and similar to the way Eighth Grade showed the effects of modern day bullying, Troop Zero tries to pull in the same impact but from a 70s setting. There's a lot of promise found here and a lot to look forward to from these directors, it's just a question of if others can see what I see, as well as the decision of the kind of film the duo makes next that could hinder their shot.
As has been mentioned, the message present is wonderful: be yourself. The film is massively anti-bullying, and that's a great thing, however the characters in which we are surrounded by for 94 minutes are bothersome to watch in action. The story focuses on a little girl, Christmas Flint (AKA Boss), that's been through trauma. Her mother has passed and she finds the light in humanity in seeking the being outside of our solar system. Bullied at school for being a "bed-wetter,” she denies and denies until she can't take it any longer and decides to go after the bullies in two ways - by battling and befriending (it'll make more sense in context). As the storyline dives deep into competition, we begin to hit an array of pacing issues; the story becomes jarring to sit through. Luckily for the viewer, the film does regain its balance, just unfortunately not until the final act.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
While it's clear Viola Davis and Jim Gaffigan are strongly supporting the efforts of the younger cast, their characters are somewhat dragged down by the inclusion of so many young actors. There's a rule to this that some Hollywood productions follow and others skip over, barely glancing at the issues they've created. Unfortunately if this film has done anything for the cast, its give them a forgettable name. Seeing McKenna Grace take the lead could have been a delightful introduction to this bright young star for some people that haven't seen her last few outings, but her over the top "bizarreness" doesn't assist in liking her character. One moment Christmas Flint is a weird but strangely likable youth, and the next she's an obnoxious, overbearing child that wants too much emotion thrown at her. Beyond Grace, I just couldn’t take the rest of the young cast very seriously. I never related to them or felt the pain they were feeling from being disconnected from the rest of the "cool kids,” even at times causing me to want to fast forward as the film appeared to be moving through the motions instead of diving into the bigger issues present.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
David Bowie is what I remember, but beyond that it's exactly what you'd imagine a "camp" movie would sound like. Going on hikes, completing tasks for badges, getting into hijinks - the first score that enters your head for those kinds of activities is probably the correct one utilized in Troop Zero. While I was not a fan of the generic and by-the-numbers score, I can always put a smile on my face with some classic Bowie. While the message wasn't 100% as vibrant as the filmmakers may have desired, the inclusion of Bowie really made the last twenty minutes stick with me much longer than anything prior.
The film perfectly simulates a small isolated country town in rural Georgia during the 1970s. If there's something to be majorly proud of here, it's the use of practical sets and real location to create the aesthetic Troop Zero was aiming for. In fact, the only clear use of CGI is at the end, right before we are zoomed out and placed into the credits, and that's to generate the visual of a star. Used sparingly as it is, the visual effects work properly here and while not gasping in amazement like the characters on screen, it really seals the end promisingly.
Troop Zero is far from the best camp film out there, but beyond Eighth Grade, its message of how bullying can be avoided is impactful. Even with a solid message, it's build up to the final act is by-the-numbers, and although the final scene is delightful in many, many ways, it sadly can't provoke the other two acts to be any more fun or memorable to make the viewer venture back for another sit through.