Sundance Review: Kitchen-Sink Whimsy In Charlotte Regan’s ‘Scrapper’

The cost of living crisis has hit the U.K. hard, but you wouldn’t guess from the trio of films screening in the official selection at Sundance. Rye Lane, in Premieres, is a goofy love story set in south London; Girl, in World Dramatic, is a tender parent-child drama set in Glasgow; and Scrapper, also in World Dramatic, is a curious mixture of the two. It deals with issues such as social care, single parenting, truancy, and grief, but director Charlotte Regan handles these matters with a candy-colored levity that can quite often be charming, in a whimsical, Wes Anderson way, but sometimes just plain baffling (there’s a reason why you don’t see talking spiders in a Ken Loach movie).

It begins with a title card that reads “It takes a village to raise a child”, but the statement is immediately struck through and replaced with the words “I can raise myself, thank you.” This is our handwritten introduction to 12-year-old Georgie (Lola Campbell), who lives by herself on a Home Counties estate following the premature death of her mother. As far as the social services are concerned, Georgie lives with her uncle, whose name is “Winston Churchill”. Whenever anyone calls, Georgia has a deal going with the guy in the corner shop, who records snippets of conversation on her phone saying how well she’s doing at school. Oh, and to pay the rent, Georgie is a bike thief, working with her best friend Ali.

Georgie is perfectly happy being alone, and is actually pretty good at taking care of herself, lounging around the flat watching the shopping channel with Ali and seldom taking off her baggy West Ham football shirt. This idyll is about to come to an end, however: out of the blue, a young stranger with a blond Eminem crop hops over the fence with an overnight bag and a bunch of flowers. This would be Jason (Harris Dickinson), the 30-year-old father she’s never met and whose shirt she is apparently wearing. The meeting does not go well, and when Jason pops out for a takeaway, Georgie and Ali conspire to lock him out. But Jason is as sketchy as his daughter and breaks in through an open window, and once he’s back inside the flat, Georgie knows the game is over. Having Jason around suddenly changes the power dynamic, and the two begin a passive-aggressive war of attrition.

Despite the wacky visual stylings and eccentric neighbourhood details — like the bitchy girls in pink who complain that Georgie “doesn’t even know how to apply foundation”, or the three polite Black boys who ride matching yellow bikes — Scrapper is essentially a two-hander, since the fat-free plot is essentially the two getting to know each other and finding out whether they might even like each other. Fatherhood is a welcome change of pace for Dickinson, especially after his self-satirizing himbo role in Triangle of Sadness, and there are unexpected shades of exec producer Michael Fassbender (who presumably aged out of the role during development) in his performance. Campbell, meanwhile, is something of a find, in a spiky role that brings a refreshing, unsentimental edge to this after-Aftersun story.

It’s also good to see a kitchen-sink drama that doesn’t take itself overly seriously, but the downside of that is that Scrapper sometimes seems a little flippant, given that, smart as she is, our plucky heroine is still a vulnerable child, all alone in the world. Still, it’s early days in Regan’s career, and it will be interesting to see what other kinds of stories and genres she has in her offbeat sights.

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