How do two people incapable of honesty of any kind face up to truths that are too terrible to admit to?
And how do you make a movie about that and keep it funny?
The answer is Scrapper, the debut film by writer/director Charlotte Regan, now available on home media including VOD and Blu-ray.
Scrapper stars newcomer Lola Campbell as Georgie, a 12-year-old girl living by herself after the recent death of her mother. Lola stays afloat with a number of petty schemes, primarily stealing people’s bikes and selling them for food money alongside her friend Ali (the very charming Alin Uzun), the only person who knows that she is living alone. Georgie is the sort of youngster who is convinced they have figured out how to manage the adult world, down to having a “Stages of Grief” checklist that she dutifully checks off. With a couple carefully dissembled half-truths (and bald-faced lies) she easily evades detection by the idiotic bureaucracies that are supposed to be in place to protect her, and continues a largely solitary life, too busy with surviving day-to-day to allow grief anywhere near her.
(I hasten to reiterate that Scrapper is an energetic comedy. A very funny one!)
Lola lives with the sort of freedom that every kid dreams of but that every adult watching will quickly recognize as unsustainable. The specific blow that knocks down this particular wobbly Jenga tower of an existence is the arrival of Lola’s never-before-seen deadbeat father, Jason (Harris Dickinson), who learned about the death of Lola’s mom and has decided to plant himself in Georgie’s life.
Regan, an accomplished director of music videos and short films making her feature length debut, demonstrates immediate skill behind the camera, Scrapper is fundamentally a duet between its two leads. The film lives and dies on whether or not Campbell and Dickinson strike fireworks off each other, as the majority of the film is simply observing their evolving dynamic as two people desperate for a connection they don’t know how to ask for amidst tragedy.
(Again: Comedy. Is Funny.)
Dickinson is in a precarious spot in his career, clearly being positioned as a new major leading man in the likes of, well, the Maleficent sequel, the Kingsman prequel, and in Where the Crawdads Sing, he’s the third of the love triangle that doesn’t live to see the end credits. He’s quite excellent in supporting roles in The Souvenir Part II and See How They Run, but the jury is still out on whether or not he can carry a movie.
In Scrapper, he’s not only excellent but impressively fearless. Jason portrays himself as an affable slacker, a pose he’s juuuuuuust charming enough to pull off most of the time. But there’s a vein of self-loathing running through him that manifests in a hair-trigger temper that gets the better of him at times. He wants to step in and be the father he should have been this whole time, but he may actually, fundamentally, just not be up to the task. Dickinson owns everything both decent and infuriating about the character, embracing even those scenes in which Jason is at his most unforgivable.
But Campbell is the major discovery of the film, with her tight ponytail and her furious eyes. At times she carries herself with an adult poise that’s so convincing you may get fooled into believing that this wisp of a blonde girl is as self-sufficient as she claims to be. Other times, the veneer cracks and all you can see is the hurting, lonely child. Campbell navigates this difficult territory beautifully, and it only serves to push Dickinson to up his own game as Jason works desperately to find a way around or through his daughter’s defenses.
At times you can feel Regan behind the camera putting a little too much spin on the ball, injecting visual flourishes and touches of stylized whimsy that don’t mesh well with the straightforward and earnest nature of the film. Scrapper struggles to decide whether it’s aiming for Mike Leigh realism or a heightened Paddington-esque world just this side of magical realism. But at other points, Regan demonstrates the absolute correct level of restraint and taste to hammer home an emotional beat without leaning on it so hard as to cross over into irritating manipulation.
These are not characters who are going to make grandiose speeches summing up their thoughts and emotions. This is not a film where one grand gesture is going to solve years’ worth of hurt and accumulated tensions. Instead, Regan as both writer and director is dialed into how powerful incremental change can be when its fought for by flawed people struggling against their own worst natures.
Scrapper is a small film, but it’s sincere and moving along with being consistently funny from first minute to last. It is exactly the kind of earnest human story we’re always asking for and complaining don’t exist anymore, and then totally ignore when someone actually makes one.
Don’t ignore Scrapper. It is quite a special little movie, and with a little luck it marks the start of a very interesting movie career for the very talented Regan.