Reviewed by: Jeremy Mathews

"Simultaneously bold, sweet and sometimes off-putting." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Scrapper makes you appreciate that you can make a film about hardships amongst the British working class and still have vibrant, inviting colors and a playful tone. It also makes clear why most films dealing with that subject matter go a different direction, as it’s a difficult balancing act. Indeed, the film only barely pulls it off by virtue of its exceptional cast.

Directors like Ken Loach have so skillfully executed social realism with muted visual palettes that it’s easy to forget there are other aesthetic options. Writer/director Charlotte Regan adds a dose of whimsy by way of Wes Anderson to the equation. Her choices are simultaneously bold, sweet and sometimes off-putting. After all, some her choices are based around pretending the story isn’t about a 12-year-old girl evading child services after her mother’s death. That said, the members of 2023 Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition jury didn’t object, as they awarded the film their top prize.

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Lola Campbell marvelously depicts the girl in question, Georgie, who spends much of her time at her house, trying to preserve things exactly as her mother liked them — going so far as to reference old photos to make sure the pillows are arranged just right. She’s convinced social workers that she’s under the care of a fictional uncle named Winston Churchill, and recorded an audio bank of stock conversation responses from a local shop clerk to handle any phone calls from the authorities. She goes out to get supplies and steals bikes with her friend Ali (Alin Uzun), then retreats back into her secluded world of memories and spiders, who talk via video game speech bubbles in some of the film’s more aimless asides.

One day, while she and Ali are hanging out in the living room, a man hops over the fence and introduces himself as Georgie’s father. Played by Harris Dickinson, the man is rather insistent that he’s going to get to know his daughter, even though she just wants him to go away. Since Georgie doesn’t quite have the legal standing to kick him out, he stays and stubbornly tries to get to know his daughter, forcing her to confront her loss in the process.

The film is very ambitious in terms of what it’s trying to accomplish tonally. On one hand, it’s about a girl coping with the loss of her mother, refusing to accept help and resorting to criminal behavior to make ends meet. On the other, it’s told with quirky humour and jokey overtones. In an early scene, Georgie and Ali are stealing bikes when one of the owners shows up, and they talk their way out of it by pretending they’re inspecting the bikes for mechanical issues. It’s a perfectly funny moment, but it lets the characters off the hook a bit too easily when reality should crash in on them much sooner.

The intent seems to be to place us in the inventive mind of a child who doesn’t want to deal with reality, but the cute gags such as Uncle Winston Churchill stretch the credulity of the adult characters who believe the lies. There are also some clumsy interludes that play as documentary interviews, in which the characters discuss what they think about Georgie. These derail the narrative more than add to it. The film also rather conveniently writes off Ali for a sizable chunk of the film to allow for some father-daughter bonding.

This is starting to read like a laundry list of issues, but once Regan drops affectations to focus on the father-daughter relationship, the story hits its stride. There’s a genuine rapport between Campbell and Dickinson that really makes the film flow, and spurs us to hope Georgie can find a world as colorful and inviting as the one she created in her head.

Reviewed on: 06 Feb 2023
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Georgie is a dreamy 12-year-old girl who lives happily alone in her London flat, filling it with magic. Out of nowhere, her estranged father turns up and forces her to confront reality.
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Read more Scrapper reviews:

Levan Tskhovrebadze ***

Director: Charlotte Regan

Writer: Charlotte Regan

Starring: Harris Dickinson, Lola Campbell, Alin Uzun, Ambreen Razia, Olivia Brady, Aylin Tezel

Year: 2023

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: UK

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