Scrapper

There's nothing piecemeal about this heartfelt, imaginative and exceptionally acted Sundance prizewinner about a reunited father and daughter.
Sarah Ward
September 14, 2023

Overview

Trust a movie that's all about connection and pluck to boast plenty itself. The second of cinema's recent father-daughter pictures out of Britain that's directed by a first-time feature filmmaker called Charlotte — the first: Charlotte Wells' Aftersun — Charlotte Regan's Scrapper couldn't be better cast or any more fearless about telling its tale. Starring as 12-year-old Georgie, a pre-teen striving to survive on her own with any help from adults or the authorities after her mum Vicky's (Olivia Brady, The Phantom of the Open) death from cancer, debutant Lola Campbell is an electrifying find. Fresh from playing a model in Triangle of Sadness, Harris Dickinson is now an absent rather than ideal dad, a part that he infuses with equal doses of soul, sorrow, charisma and cheek. And, recognising that she's hardly skipping through new narrative territory, writer/director Regan heaps on character and personality. This is a perky, bright and bubbly take on a kitchen-sink story.

There's sadness in 2023's Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize-winner, too, with Scrapper scoring its award in the fest's World Cinema Dramatic Competition. There's anger as well, especially about a society that has Georgie convinced that staying solo in the council flat she lived in with her mother — a space that she's now fastidious about keeping exactly as it was before heartbreak struck — is her top choice. But Regan sees colour amid the grey, plus possibilities alongside struggles. Her view is clear-eyed but never steely. Regan unblinkingly witnesses the realities of working-class existence, yet also spies joy and whimsy, and similarly isn't afraid of getting surreal. This is a flick with talking spiders — cue literal bubbles, of the speech variety — alongside scrapping to get by.

Indeed, while Scrapper may owe one of its debts to Sorry We Missed You's Ken Loach, aka England's go-to kitchen-sink filmmaker and one of its all-time directing icons, it also slides in next to Del Kathryn Barton's Blaze. That searing debut had its own 12-year-old protagonist's existence forever altered by witnessing horrific violence, which isn't part of Georgie's plight; however, the Australian feature similarly understood the power of escaping to cope so deeply that unleashing its imagination was always its approach. Both movies pair fantasy with empathy, winningly and resonantly so, knowing that seeking solace from life's worst moments is essential and universal. The two films also want their audiences to take in the world from their lead character's perspectives — which being dreamy and leaning into magical realism couldn't be more crucial to.

When she's not maintaining her humble abode as her mum left it — even the couch cushions need to sit in the same place they've always been — Georgie has two key ways of getting by. She makes cash by stealing, repainting and selling bicycles with her friend Ali (fellow newcomer Alin Uzun), with the no-nonsense Zeph (Ambreen Razia, Ted Lasso) her fence. To stop child services from stepping in, she tells them that her uncle Winston Churchill is on guardian duties, using taped snippets of the local convenience store clerk saying pivotal phrases to back her up when anyone official rings. Practical, resourceful, enterprising, resilient: these all fit the resolute adolescent, who is determined to retain as much about her days when her mother was alive as she can. Georgie is well-aware that she's working through the stages of grief, diligently tracking them with Ali, but she's certain that she's found the best way of dealing with her situation.

Enter Dickinson's Jason, who drops in with bleached-blonde hair — and by jumping over the back fence — to stay with the daughter that he's never known until now. Georgie is wary and flatout unwelcoming, but she's a kid and he's an adult, which means that he's sticking around regardless of her attitude. From there, of course this is an account of two strangers bonded by only blood initially, then getting to know each other. It's never as formulaic as that setup sounds, though, including by constantly embracing openness and playfulness. When Regan has Georgie and Ali ponder what Jason's real motives might be, for instance, she brings to life their fears that he could be a gangster or a vampire. And, often offering to-camera commentary is the picture's chorus of supporting characters, as shot in Super 16, in another of Scrapper's lively stylistic touches.

Strip all of Scrapper's aesthetic flourishes away and it wouldn't be the tender, sincere, charming and creative standout that it is. Its rich and energetic look and feel are that evocative, affecting and indispensable, as aided by talented cinematographer Molly Manning Walker — a director herself, with her own feature debut How to Have Sex also an applauded 2023 release, taking out Cannes Film Festival's Un Certain Regard. But, if Regan had served up a visually and tonally standard movie with the usual grit, Campbell and Dickinson's work would've still been gleamingly exceptional. Their dynamic would've remained unmissable as well. Just like Scrapper's palette and production design, there's nothing black and white about Regan's two main characters, who bound across the screen with their strengths, flaws, joys hopes and disappointments on full display — and also nothing straightforward about their complicated relationship.

Not just because this is her first-ever acting credit, Campbell's efforts never read like a performance. Authenticity shines as vividly as the paint adorning the film's central housing estate's outer walls, no matter whether Georgie is clinging to her mum's ways for comfort, mischievously palling around with Ali, pulling off her ploys with confidence or ever-so-slowly warming to Jason. In what's proving a prolific chapter of a burgeoning career that's only going to keep blossoming, The King's Man, The Souvenir: Part II, Where the Crawdads Sing and See How They Run's Dickinson also inhabits the role of a wayward dad returned with lived-in commitment and emotion. There are no scraps in these portrayals, and there's nothing piecemeal about this movie; Scrapper and its upbeat yet unflinching slice-of-life chronicle arrives fully and gloriously formed.

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