There is a very welcome trend emerging in cinema that has become more apparent in recent years. After decades of an incalculable number of stories focused on the experiences of young boys coming of age, young girls are finally being extended the same courtesy beyond the “once in a blue moon” Fly Away Home or Now and Then. Even more specifically, the father-daughter subgenre is flourishing with reflective emotional powerhouses like Aftersun or fellow Sundance-alum Fairyland popping up in the last year alone. As great as these films are, they are operating on a visceral level which not all audiences are ready to engage with at all times.
Enter Scrapper, the poignant feature debut from writer-director Charlotte Regan which accompanies its deeply heartfelt moments with its fair share of whimsy and levity. The tone is established from the very first moments with a text overlay of the well-known quote “It takes a village to raise a child” furiously scribbled over with a more pointed declaration: “I can raise myself, thank you.” This message comes courtesy of spunky twelve-year-old Georgie (fierce newcomer Lola Campbell), a young girl who is currently scraping by in the world by only depending on herself. Georgie is surviving purely on instinct following the tragic death of her mother, as she has no one else to care for her and does not want to end up in the foster care system.
Georgie spends her summer holiday stealing bikes with her best friend Ali (Alin Uzun) to cover the rent in a nondescript council estate in which she resides. Considering her relatively dire circumstance, she does have a few things going for her; it is always good to have a supportive neighbor who is willing to buy your stolen goods. Given her goals, it is also fair to thank the frankly inept social services who do not seem keen to investigate the validity of the “uncle” she is supposedly staying with, Winston Churchill. Georgie is making the best approximation of a normal life that she can, all the while attempting to navigate and chart her grief through a nifty checklist in which she is ticking off the five stages one by one by some unknown metric.
This is what makes the arrival of Jason (Harris Dickinson, Triangle of Sadness) such an unwelcome development. When this 30-year-old, bleach blonde stranger climbs over her back fence and announces that he is her father, it is understandable that there is not a tearful welcome back into her life. Jason skipped out on Georgie and her mother in a flight of youthful fear to go live life in Ibiza, but he thinks he might be ready to take on the role he feels he was unprepared for all those years ago. Georgie is uninterested in his newfound pledge to be a father to her, but his looming threat to dime her out to social services if she does not attempt this new dynamic forces her to be open to the possibility.
The basic concept of a relationship blossoming out of obligatory circumstances is far from a new one, but Regan brings a light touch to the script and wields a firm command of the tone which really makes this one sing. Beyond the spirited opening text, the film weaves in bits of magical realism that never overshadows the emotional stakes. Together with Director of Photography Molly Manning Walker, Regan creates an insular world of a few square blocks and makes it feel like it contains all of life’s offerings. Neighbors and other important figures in Georgie’s life deliver direct addresses to the camera to give you a bit more insight into her plight. You even have constructed scenes of two spiders having a conversation which both offers humor and reminds you that despite her outward maturity, Georgie is still a young girl with a child’s innocence.
These heightened elements do not detract from the genuine emotion, but they actually add to it. Since Georgie is pushing down such immense pain, these moments allow us to see past the tough facade she has had to build up to survive. This is not used as a crutch, though, as Regan also allows Georgie to let down her walls around Ali. As a trusted partner in crime, Ali has proven himself dependable enough to confide in and scheme with. One of the most simply beautiful choices of this story is to have Ali treat Georgie as an equal worthy of respect rather than an “annoying” or “helpless” girl not worthy of his time. Too many narratives pit boys and girls at odds, or they make their friendship conditional, but this example radiates purity of spirit which allows us a peek into the world of our protagonist.
As brilliant as this dynamic is, it is the dual coming-of-age narrative of Georgie and Jason which packs the biggest emotional punch. Georgie is the more traditional of the two, as you have a young girl in a prime transitional point in her life coming face-to-face with an unknown future. Yet Jason is wrestling with the same issues, only a bit delayed in his years. Although far from a complete man-child, Jason has a youthful spirit which pokes through even when he is trying to be an adult. From childish retorts to an obstinate Georgie to his willingness to share his experiences with boosting bicycles, Jason is fighting with his nature to be what Georgie needs. As someone whose recent output has positioned him as everything from a himbo to an action star and even an abusive monster, it is welcome to see Dickinson showcase his softer side without veering into saccharine territory.
Scrapper is the rare crowdpleaser which does not have to sacrifice authenticity to achieve its intended emotions. Throughout its spry runtime, the film deliberately charts out the tentative steps taken to earn trust and form the building blocks of a future. Regan affords her characters agency to choose what family means to them and what effort they are willing to put forth. The film is not overly ambitious in its scope, but a tonally balanced, impeccably acted drama that does not overstay its welcome is more of a rarity than we would like to admit. Charlotte Regan has crafted a joyous entry into the pantheon of coming-of-age tales, and it is one that will stand as one of the bright spots of the year.
Scrapper had its World Premiere in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section of Sundance Film Festival 2023.
Director: Charlotte Regan
Writer: Charlotte Regan
Scrapper is the rare crowdpleaser which does not have to sacrifice authenticity to achieve its intended emotions.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.