Last year’s drama, Aftersun, debuted to critical acclaim, and garnered a surprising Oscar nomination for rising star Paul Mescal. Finding myself in the minority of viewers that simply did not connect with that film’s scattered-memory aesthetic and light storytelling, I was a bit concerned that I would feel similarly about Scrapper, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The brainchild and debut feature of young filmmaker Charlotte Regan, this drama focused on the struggles of the British working-class works far better on an emotional level than its like-minded counterpart. An extremely complicated father/daughter relationship, weathered by time and neglect, gets a second chance. Following a 12-year-old girl as she navigates the world alone deep in the throes of the grieving process, Scrapper tells a tender, authentic story with newcomer Lola Campbell and seasoned vet Harris Dickinson (Triangle of Sadness, Beach Rats) at its center.
Georgie (Campbell) has pretty much been forced to become her own Matilda, out of necessity. Georgie’s mother has recently passed away, and now Georgie lives alone in their London flat. The wise-beyond-her-years little pre-teen does everything in her power to keep things as they were with her mum around, including recording responses from a stranger to pose as her uncle over the phone for social workers, and hijacking bicycles with her bestie, Ali (Alin Uzun), in order to pay the rent. By all accounts, Georgie appears on the surface to be doing remarkably well considering her recent loss. When Ali inquires about what stage of grief she may be at, Georgie decides that she is “almost done.” As anyone who has lost a parent they are close with will know, grief is never that easy. In secret, Georgie watches videos of her mum on her phone to help cope with the loss.
And then, her absentee father, Jason (Dickinson), shows up out of the blue, climbing over a fence into the yard. Jason seems very mysterious and alluring to Ali, particularly in the stories he tells about his time in Ibiza, or the advice he gives about scratching off the serial numbers on stolen bikes. Georgie reluctantly lets him into her home, but stays guarded emotionally. Jason himself is still a kid at heart, and it quickly becomes clear that he has no clue how to navigate this complicated situation himself. He uses humor as a coping mechanism, and tries to be playful to connect as a parent with Georgie. The chemistry is already there between Campbell and Dickinson in their first scenes together, and only grows stronger as the movie builds to an emotionally satisfying climax.
As with grief, parenting is no easy beast. Georgie seems to lash out with her behavior, and Jason struggles to handle it. For someone used to wiggling his way out of tight spots, can Jason cope with the demands of being a single father? Falling in love with Georgie and Jason’s vibe together feels easy and natural, thanks in large part to an authenticity recalling 2017’s vastly underrated The Florida Project. One of my favorite moments between the duo is a simple one, wherein Jason hopes to make up for years of missed birthdays by having Georgie blow out unlit candles on a cake. Another oft-used aside, involving making up a narrative for people talking in the distance, acts as a hilarious segment of bonding. The biggest emotional moment comes courtesy of a voicemail from Georgie’s mother, whose presence, though absent physically, reverberates throughout the entire film.
Writer/director Regan flirts with moments of magical, childlike wonderment that include imagining Jason as a vampire, a prisoner, and a gangster, and spider-speak complete with comic-strip thought blurbs. It is in the human connections where Scrapper feels most relatable. Supercharged by an undeniable connection between father and daughter, Scrapper spins dramedy gold from raw emotionality.
Scrapper rebuilds a familial connection block by block when it debuts exclusively in theaters on Friday, August 25th.