Let’s get it out of the way now, because comparisons are inevitably going to be made between British writer-director Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper, a competitor in the world cinema section at Sundance, and fellow Brit Charlotte Wells’ feature debut Aftersun, which emerged on the festival circuit last fall. Both of these mono-titled films made by women named Charlotte revolve around working-class adolescent girls and their respective single-parent fathers goofing off during over summer vacation. Viewers who don’t track movies as closely as festival goers and trade consumers are bound to get them mixed up. It’s important that you, dear reader, help to clear up any confusion: Aftersun is an almost miraculous work of beauty and Scrapper is a sweet bit of fluff that’s trying too hard to be funny and offbeat and ends up being too often simply annoying.
That said, there are qualities to enjoy in Scrapper. At the heart there’s a brace of winning performances from recently everywhere-all at-once Harris Dickinson (from Triangle of Sadness and Where the Crawdads Sing), who brings soulfulness to his rapscallion hitherto-absentee dad Jason, and total newcomer Lola Campbell, who brings natural comic timing to her turn as 12-year-old protagonist Georgie. Regan, who has directed music videos and several lauded shorts, clearly has a knack with younger performers and elicits a relaxed, laconic air of confidence from Campbell and similarly droll turns from the supporting ensemble, which includes Alin Uzun as Georgie’s best friend Ali, Freya Bell as her nemesis Layla, and a chorus of bit players (including identical triplets Ayokunle Oyesanwo, Ayobami Oyesanwo and Ayooluwa Oyesanwo) who comment on the story.
The Bottom Line
Visually spiffy but underwritten.
The highly saturated colors of Elena Muntoni’s production design, Oliver Cronk’s costumes and Molly Manning Walker’s cinematography create a stylized, semi-magical world out of a shabby housing estate on the outskirts of East London, a bit like the Paddington franchise but with fewer posh folk.
That quirky quality, much loved by British filmmakers these days, is fun but only gets you so far. What lets the film down is Regan’s underdeveloped script, which can’t quite manage the tonal shifts between grief and comedy hijinks. The basic conceit here is that Georgie’s beloved mother (Olivia Brady, seen in flashbacks) has died recently of an unspecified disease. Somehow, no one from the adult world has worked out that this means Georgie is living entirely on her own, especially since she has somehow managed to bamboozle inquisitive social workers into thinking that she’s being minded by a fictitious uncle. To survive, she and Ali have taken to stealing bicycles around the neighborhood, which they sell to a local, Zeph (Ambreen Razia), for cash.
One day, Jason literally climbs over the backyard fence and announces he is Georgie’s long-lost father and that he’s moving in to look after her. Having not seen him since she was a baby, Georgie isn’t sure if she should believe him, let alone let him stay there, but he manages to win over Ali. He goes to work trying to charm Georgie, partly by buying her stuff but also by acting a bit like a big kid himself. For example, he pesters her into play-acting with him as they make up plummy-voiced dialogue for a well-to-do couple they can see across the platform at a railway station. Rather than being horrified at her bicycle thieving, Jason helps her, pointing out the necessity of sanding off serial numbers.
Fine, Regan intends this criminal mischief to be read as charming in some way, and the fact that Dickinson and Campbell make such a great double act helps us to suck up all this flim-flam with a straw. What’s harder to swallow is that Georgie, Ali and, by extension, we the viewers should just shrug off the fact that he’s been an inarguably rotten, utterly absent father up until now. Heck, Georgie’s mother is more than a little culpable too given she made no arrangements to secure support for her child even though she knew she was going to die very soon.
But emotional logic is clearly not being prioritized here in a film that’s more invested in visually interesting moments where, for instance, father and daughter dance together in an abandoned building while backlighting pours through the empty windows and pretty pop music burbles away.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema Dramatic Competition)
Cast: Harris Dickinson, Lola Campbell, Alin Uzun, Cary Crankson, Carys Bowkett, Ambreen Razia, Ayokunle Oyesanwo, Ayobami Oyesanwo, Ayooluwa Oyesanwo, Freya Bell
Production companies: BFI, BBC Film, Great Point Media, DMC Film
Director/screenwriter: Charlotte Regan
Producer: Theo Barrowclough
Executive producers: Eva Yates, Farhana Bhula, Michael Fassbender, Conor McCaughan, Daniel Emmerson, Jim Reeve
Co-producer: Jennifer Monks
Director of photography: Molly Manning Walker
Production designer: Elena Muntoni
Costume designer: Oliver Cronk
Editors: Billy Sneddon, Matteo Bini
Sound designer: Ben Baird
Music: Patrick Jonsson
Music supervisor: Phil Canning
Casting director: Shaheen Baig
Sales: Charades & Anonymous Content
1 hour 24 minutes