SCRAPPER (Sundance FF2023) – Review by Nadine Whitney

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British writer/director Charlotte Regan begins her debut feature Scrapper as she means to continue by flashing up the well-known quote “It takes a village to raise a child” and having it scribbled out with a childish font saying, “I can raise myself thanks.”

Twelve-year-old Georgie (newcomer Lola Campbell) is doing precisely that – raising herself. After the death of her mother Vicky (Olivia Brady), Georgie is fooling social services by pretending she lives with her uncle, the improbably named Winston Churchill. Georgie is grieving, although she’s not exactly sure how she’s doing it. She cleans the house obsessively and arranges the cushions on the couch exactly as her mother had. She also has a checklist of the five stages of grief which she randomly checks off.

Her days are spent with her friend Ali (Alin Uzun) where they steal bikes to sell and pay Georgie’s rent. Georgie is a fast-talking scrappy lass who is as clever as she is endearing (although not endearing to her council estate neighbours). She also knows that at some stage the jig will be up, and social services will twig that “Winston Churchill” isn’t a real person. She’ll be relegated to foster care and all her self-determination will be taken away.

One day a young man, Jason (Harris Dickinson) hops over her fence and announces that he is her father. Georgie doesn’t want anything to do with the man who abandoned her and her mother to live out his life in Ibiza. Jason, only thirty, tries to explain that he was too young to be a father and didn’t know how to be, but he’s here now and they’re going to try whether Georgie likes it or not. After all, he can always call social services.

Charlotte Regan’s film blends the tones of social realism with magical realism. The gravity of Georgie’s loneliness and sadness is never underplayed, nor are the class issues around her that see social services deliberately being slack, or her school showing zero compassion for her. Regan concentrates on building a world through Georgie’s eyes which is replete with talking spiders and a scrap heap in her mother’s bedroom that Georgie is building so she can find Vicky in the sky.

Despite all her protestations Georgie begins to bond with the feckless but earnest Jason. Their mix of maturity and immaturity makes for a blend which sees them meeting on a somewhat equal footing. Jason’s terrible bleached blonde hair – he’s called 8 Mile by the estate dwellers – and his wide-boy charms show a man who never really grew up. Georgie, a “right weird one” had to grow up very quickly but she is still a child who needs to be nurtured. Her hard shell has kept all but Ali away (that and her refusal to wear anything but a soccer jersey).

Regan’s film is a definitive crowd-pleaser. Even in its more twee elements like the candy-coloured coating she crafts for the facades of row of flats, the pantomime like staged elements that represent both school and social services, or the stylized direct to camera discussion that Georgie’s neighbours have about her – Regan remains committed to giving Scrapper an emotional interiority. Molly Manning’s work as DOP fits the hyper-constructed parts of the narrative and focuses the camera on the poignant beats of Regan’s script.

Scrapper is an exquisite coming-of-age story for both its protagonists. Georgie and Jason learn what it is like to need and love each other in a manner that is naturalistic despite, or perhaps because of, Regan’s forays into the fantastical. Lola Campbell is a brilliant presence who manages to make Georgie deeply genuine in both her rebellion and aching sadness.

Harris Dickinson sells Jason as someone that Georgie would both resent and be drawn to. He isn’t glamourous like he’s be sold to be in his last few roles (a male model in Triangle of Sadness, a Prince in a Disney film, a seductive bad boy in Where the Crawdads Sing, or a young hero in the prequel The King’s Man) instead he wears a vulnerable goofiness that wears down Georgie’s defences.

Charlotte Regan may have accidentally stumbled onto the post Aftersun zeitgeist of father and daughter stories, but Scrapper is a different kind of film to Charlotte Well’s delicate and heartbreaking story that ends with a goodbye. Scrapper ends with a hello that the characters have earned through their ability to embrace each other and tentatively step into the real world that they’ve both been hiding from.

Scrapper won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at Sundance Film Festival 2023.

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Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney is a seasoned film critic and scholar. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Nadine contributes regularly to FILMINK, The Curb, and Mr Movies Film Blog. She holds a degree in cinema theory and cultural studies. Her specialty is surrealism in cinema. She is as passionate about cats as she is about film. She is co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association and a member of FIPRESCI.