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Sundance Closing Night: "Troop Zero"

by Abe Fried-Tanzer

It’s almost always appealing to see two recent Oscar winners work together shortly after they take home their trophies. The notion of the last two Supporting Actress victors, Viola Davis and Allison Janney, teaming up is certainly enticing. Their Oscars were for playing very different types of mothers, and in Sundance’s closing night selection, they face off as competing scout leaders in a hilarious 1970s-set comedy about being who you are...

Troop Zero is best compared to Moonrise Kingdom without Wes Anderson’s touch and rhythm, influenced instead by the singular style of Bert and Bertie, two very talented women from London who mark their fourth film and second feature with this winning comedy. Our hero is Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace), a young girl whose greatest dream is to communicate with whatever may be out there in space. When an opportunity to be recorded by NASA arises, Christmas puts together an odd band of misfits to start her own Birdie Scout troop, which includes two angry bullies, an effeminate boy, and a one-eyed religious zealot. Needing a “troop mama,” Christmas turns to her father’s long-suffering secretary, Ms. Rayleen (Davis), who is reunited with her lifelong nemesis and the school’s principal (Janney). 

Appearing on stage after the Friday night premiere screening, Bert and Bertie emphasized that the theme of the film is finding your place in the universe. That’s a fitting description, as it truly does champion the underdog, who might not come out on top but will at least have a good time along the way. This film does contain one of the most simultaneously hilarious and sweet scenes of any film at Sundance, helping to distinguish it from other outcast adventure stories. 

Viola and McKenna at the premiereDavis and Janney are both having fun, and it’s particularly enjoyable to see Davis in an atypical outright comedic role. The true stars, however, are the young actors, led by Grace, who appeared in 2017 opposite Janney as the younger version of Tonya Harding. They all nail the individuality and specific energies of their characters, not apologetic for their quirks but still not sure of how to put them to use in the world. Jim Gaffigan, who plays Christmas’ father, said it best at the Q & A: “These kids are really spectacular. I would trade in my kids for these kids. I’m trusting that you won’t tell my kids that.” We won’t, but they’re sure to love the film.

previously in our Sundance coverage

Troop Zero will be released by Amazon Studios, presumably later this year.

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Reader Comments (7)

so excited to learn that we'll get VIOLA in a comedy. I was wondering if that was ever gonna happen. Nice change of pace. Happy to hear that the film works.

February 2, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

After more crying in Widows i'm more intrigued about this.

February 2, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

This is also written by the very imaginative Lucy Alibar - of Beasts of the Southern Wild fame!

February 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBushwick

The coincidence in the timing of this write up is that I just found out how funny Davis is by watching her interviews with Jimmy Kimmel on YouTube, which of course, made me think that she should do some comedies. I'm eager to see this.

February 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

I caught the Kimmel interview too and cackled. Her reaction to him asking about menopause should light a fire in any comedy writer for ideas.

February 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterHoneybee

Does anyone else think that Janney is the spitting image of Kathleen Quinlan in that photo?

February 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

@Michael R

I thought it was Beatrice Straight upon first look.

February 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Lewis

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