Alin Uzun, Ambreen Razia, Asheq Akhtar, Ayobami Oyesabwo, Ayokunle Oyesanwo, Ayooluwa Oyesanwo, Cary Crankson, Charlotte Regan, comedy, drama, England, film festivals, Freya Bell, Harris Dickinson, Jessica Fostekew, Joshua Frater-Loughlin, Lola Campbell, reviews, Scrapper, Sundance Film Festival
February 12, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Charlotte Regan
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in England, the comedy/drama film “Scrapper” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: After her single mother dies of a terminal illness, a 12-year-old girl secretly lives by herself and finds her life upended again when her absentee father unexpectedly shows up to take care of her.
Culture Audience: “Scrapper” will primarily appeal to people interested in well-acted movies about estranged family members who must learn to live with each other.
There’s not much of a plot, and it’s easy to predict how the story is going to end, but “Scrapper” is charming because of the central performances by Lola Campbell and Harris Dickinson as a feisty 12-year-old girl and her wayward father. It’s one of those movies where the main characters are a mixture of tough and tender. Ultimately, the movie’s message is about making the most of whatever family that you have.
Written and directed by Charlotte Regan, “Scrapper” has its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the grand jury prize for U.S. World Dramatic. The movie pokes fun at institutions—such as government-run schools and social welfare programs—as frequently inept in addressing the real needs of children. Mostly, “Scrapper” shows the main characters going on a personal and often uncomfortable journey to define what “family” means to them and having resiliency during difficult times.
In the beginning of “Scrapper” (which takes place in an unnamed city in England), these words are seen on screen: “It takes a village to raise a child.” The words are then crossed out and these words are written underneath: “I can raise myself, thanks.” The latter statement is the attitude of 12-year-old Georgie (played by Campbell), who has been secretly living by herself in a council flat, ever since her single mother Vicky (played by Olivia Brady, shown in flashbacks) died of a terminal illness. Georgie’s father has not been involved in raising her, and he can’t be located. The movie doesn’t specify how long Georgie has been living by herself, but it looks like it’s been a few months.
Georgie still goes to school, but she’s been able to deceive school officials and child welfare services by pretending to live with an uncle (who doesn’t exist) named Winston Churchill after her mother’s death. It’s a knock at adult authorities that they don’t think it’s unusual for Georgie to have an uncle named after a former U.K. prime minister. How has Georgie been able to fool all of these adults?
Georgie is acquainted with a young man named Josh (played by Joshua Frater-Loughlin), who is a cashier at a local convenience store. She asks Josh to record different statements on her phone that could be answers in response to questions asked by any adults who call to check in on Georgie. The statements include “Georgie is doing great at school, thanks” and “We are doing fine, thank you.” Georgie pretends that Josh’s voice is the voice of her non-existent Uncle Winston, and she plays these recorded statements whenever any of these adults call. So far, this scheme has worked.
The adult authorities in “Scrapper” are depicted as soulless bureaucrats who don’t really care about the children they are supposed to be looking after in a responsible way. At Georgie’s school, a teacher named Mr. Barrowclough (played by Cary Crankson) tells Georgie how he thinks she should cope with her mother’s death, by saying that Georgie should only take a morning off from school, not an entire day. The two child welfare officials—Sian (played by Jessica Fostekew) and Youseff (played by Asheq Akhtar)—who are in charge of checking in on Georgie only do so by phone and don’t care about visiting Georgie in her home.
Georgie, who is tomboyish and sassy, likes to think of herself as being strong and independent. She makes money by stealing bikes and selling them to a young woman named Zeph (played by Ambreen Razia), whose “bike shop” is really the back of Zeph’s truck. In the beginning of the movie, the only person who knows Georgie’s secret is her best friend Ali (played by Alin Uzun), who is about the same age as Georgie. He is skeptical about how long Georgie can keep up her charade, but he keeps her secret.
Throughout the movie, various local kids who are around Georgie’s age are shown making comments to the camera to give their thoughts on Georgie. These children do not have a good opinion of Georgie, whom they think of as weird and a troublemaker. A group of “mean girls,” led by a brat named Layla (played by Freya Bell), say derogatory things about Georgie. Triplet brothers Kunle (played by Ayokunle Oyesanwo), Bami (played by Ayobami Oyesabwo) and Luwa (played by Ayooluwa Oyesanwo) are mostly in the movie as comic relief, since they often bicker and disagree with each other.
One day, Georgie is at home and is startled to see a young man with bleach blonde hair climbing over the fence in the backyard. His name is Jason (played by Dickinson), and he’s no ordinary intruder. Jason, as he tells a shocked Georgie, is Georgie’s father. It’s the first time that Jason and Georgie have met. Jason, who is also English, explains that he had been living in Spain with some male friends, but he came back to England after he heard that Vicky died.
Georgie is hostile and rude to Jason, whom she sees as an interloper who has no business being in her life. Georgie grew up thinking that Jason had abandoned her and Vicky. Jason tells his side of the story, which is very different from the story that Vicky told Georgie. “Your mum never wanted me around,” Jason tells Georgie.
With nowhere else to live, Jason tells Georgie that he will be living with her at this flat, whether she likes it or not. He says if she doesn’t let him live there, he will report her to the child welfare authorities. And so begins the uneasy and sometimes volatile way that Georgie and Jason get to know each other.
One of the first things that Georgie does when she meets Jason is scold him for not sending any child support money. “We’re not exactly rolling in it,” Georgie says. Jason replies that he’s not exactly “rolling in it” either. Georgie tries to get rid of Jason in various ways, but these tactics don’t work. During one of their frequent arguments, Jason tells Georgie: “Remember, I can tell the socials [social workers] whenever I want, so drop the attitude.”
Over time, Georgie finds out that she and Jason are a lot more alike than she would care to admit. They are both stubborn and rebellious. Georgie also gets a different perspective of why Jason was not in her life up until this point. It’s her first experience in understanding how complicated adult relationships can be. She also has to rethink her lifelong perception of Jason as being the “deadbeat dad” who didn’t care about her.
“Scrapper” would not work as well as it does if it weren’t for the stellar performances of Campbell and Dickinson, who make this father-daughter duo entirely believable. “Scrapper” has a tone of being sarcastic and sweet, which is a combination that would have made this movie look very uneven, but Regan’s sharp writing and direction keep this combination on a steady track that never feels overly contrived or forced. “Scrapper” is by no means a profound or groundbreaking film, but it entertains in all of the intended ways and is a movie that most viewers won’t forget.
UPDATE: Kino Lorber will release “Scrapper” in New York City on August 25, 2023. Picturehouse Entertainment will release “Scrapper” in the United Kingdom and Ireland on August 25, 2023.