Sundance 2023

Scrapper review – wonderfully imaginative and achingly real British dramedy

Harris Dickinson gives another sensational turn in writer-director Charlotte Regan’s stylish debut, a playful father-daughter story

In the last couple of years we’ve watched as some truly remarkable female directors have arrived on the British filmmaking scene. And just like with Georgia Oakley’s breathtaking Blue Jean, Marley Morrison’s radiant Sweetheart, and Charlotte Wells’ glorious Aftersun, Charlotte Regan’s bittersweet father-daughter dramedy Scrapper will undoubtedly cement her as a talent to watch. With its classically dry British sarcasm and a number of knockout performances, it feels like a homecoming in Sundance’s 2023 selection.

Resourceful 12-year-old Georgie (newcomer Lola Campbell, a spectacular find) is living alone in a council house on the outskirts of London after the untimely death of her mother. But she’s completely capable and “almost finished” rattling through the stages of grief, thanks so much for asking. With her West Ham shirt and long braided ponytail, this rambunctious child’s confidence may be on the naive side but is nevertheless stringent. Maturity has arrived on her doorstep early and so cooking, clearing and having a job is all in a day's work. Well, “job” is a loose descriptor; she and best bud Ali (Alin Uzun) steal bikes to sell with the bargaining charm of self-professed, salt-of-the-earth salesmen.

Then in stomps the ever-impressive Harris Dickinson as Jason, Georgie’s deadbeat dad arriving unannounced after a decade of absence with a laddish fashion sense, peroxide blonde hair, and an aversion to paternal duties. Scrapper is host to yet another stellar performance from Dickinson, who’s perfected the enigmatic stare of a man hiding his vulnerable interiority behind a plethora of curt answers. Campbell, too, takes seriously emotional beats in her stride, playing the precocious youngster with buoyant eagerness. Together, they prove to be a heartwarming duo (praise to casting director Shaheen Baig!) at the centre of what soon becomes a masterclass in playful, imaginative storytelling.

Injected with the colourful infusion of Sean Baker and the gritty realism of Clio Barnard, Scrapper gives a fresh lick of sunny yellow paint to the British kitchen-sink tradition. Cinematographer Molly Manning Walker’s camera constantly gives chase to keep up with Georgie’s antics, while mockumentary-style whimsical vignettes of characters in Georgie’s peripherals are quirky flourishes interspersed through the sharp 84-minute runtime. From talking spiders to imagining her father as a vampire, child-like fascination is given ample room to breathe.

While Georgie no longer has to tell the social worker that “Uncle Winston Churchill” is caring for her, her big brown eyes still search for something more. Security? A father? Belonging? But what can be gained in welcoming a stranger who’s awful at cooking? Here lies a pondering of childhood abandonment blanketed by Scrapper’s lighthearted approach; yet the pangs of painful reality are achingly genuine. Magic and actuality meet at the peculiar tower made from bike tyres and scrap metal (like a smaller reconstruction of Cildo Meireles' art piece “Babel”) in the spare room. The structure stands as both a playground and a heartbreaking reminder of mourning, though Scrapper never sinks into pessimism – after all, this is life as seen through the eyes of a plucky adolescent.

Scrapper was screened as part of the Sundance Film Festival 2023. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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