When I saw the trailer for “Troop Zero,” featuring Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, and Viola Davis, I was instantly charmed and knew I wanted to watch it with my family. It’s about a girl named Christmas, growing up in small-town Georgia in 1977. She is motherless, as girls often are in this type of movie. She is interested in space, and in communicating with extraterrestrial beings. Her father is disheveled and opens beer bottles with his teeth.
News comes to fictional, rural Wiggly, Georgia, that NASA would be creating a recording to send to space. There would be a competition among “Birdie Girl” troops, and the winner would get to record their voices on the record going to space. Christmas is, of course, entranced. But, the Birdie Girls are an exclusive crew, and motherless girls with disheveled fathers don’t fit their type. Thus begins the saga of Christmas’ efforts at creating her own troop (Troop Zero, naturally), and asking her father’s assistant, “Will you lead us to glory?”
Glory, as it turns out, is hard-won. Christmas and her scrappy friends come together to enter the talent show competition to win the NASA opportunity to record their voices. It is a rocky road, made rockier by Allison Janney’s character, who says things like, “What kind of world would it be if every strange little girl could just do whatever she wanted?”
I found myself wanting Troop Zero to win, in the same way that we all want the underdog to win in family movies. And while there wasn’t the traditional happy ending, where the underdog shows everyone what they’re made of (“organs and tissues” is what they’re made of, according to Christmas herself), there was a different kind of winning in the end. Instead of winning the competition, Troop Zero is led through a different kind of glory. Their talents, while charming, aren’t talents that are appreciated by the world of Birdie Girls. Their ragtag team of misfits doesn’t conform to the ideals embodied in the unwritten code of what it means to belong. Their winning doesn’t look like winning, at least in the predictable, Hollywood way.
It always makes me nervous when the traditional “winner takes all” Hollywood mentality is assigned to a Christian narrative. Without so many words, these stories seem to say, “God wanted me to win; therefore, I won.” Where does that leave the people who didn’t win? And where does that leave you next time, when you’ve lost? These narratives would have us believe that God sides with the winners, and leaves the losers on their own.
The Gospel brings us so many stories of Jesus taking the side of the losers. The disenfranchised were welcomed at his table over and over, and instead of lifting them up onto the winners’ podium, Jesus broke bread with them and washed their feet. The theology of the cross is not a success narrative.
And so, even though Troop Zero is not explicitly a Christian movie, it brings us the Christian theme of grace and redemption for the less-popular, the less-traditionally-attractive, and the misfits among us. The kids in Troop Zero didn’t win the competition, but they won each other. They were loners who ended up with each other. Let the other troops win the competition, they seemed to say. They can have it. We still have each other, and that’s winning enough.