Director: Charlotte Regan
Screenwriter: Charlotte Regan
Starring: Lola Campbell, Harris Dickson, Alin Uzun, Laura Alkman, Ambreen Razia
In the middle of a Venn diagram that has circles for “debut feature”, “written and directed by a woman named Charlotte” and “explores parental trauma through the perspective of a young daughter”, there are two films that have both been released fairly recently: Aftersun and Scrapper. It’s difficult to avoid comparing the two when they have so much in common, especially when they’re both (very) British. But actually, the two films really don’t have much in common beyond those surface-level connections. Where Charlotte Wells gave us an ambiguous masterpiece that saw its parental trauma through both pre and post-facto lenses in Aftersun, Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper presents something far more accessible, linear and, in its own way, hopeful.
Georgie (Lola Campbell) is the daughter at the centre of Scrapper’s story. She has had a rough time of it recently with her mother dying, leaving her to live alone under the rouse that a fictional uncle has moved in to take care of her. As a 12-year-old she has now inherited the burdens of being a renter in a single-person household, a pre-teen outcast at school, and, as if she didn’t have enough going wrong in her life, a West Ham fan. When Jason (Harris Dickson) turns up by climbing over her garden fence, things change dramatically. He’s the father who abandoned her, and now he’s here to challenge the new identities that she has had to make for herself. She is no longer solely responsible for paying rent, she has someone in her corner when she needs it, and she now knows who bought her the West Ham shirt that she wears every day.
The problem for Georgie is that none of the things that Jason has turned up promising to be is her mum. To make it worse, this is the person who walked out on the two of them before Georgie even had a chance to remember who he was, so of course she’s sceptical of letting him in. Both literally and figuratively, as she only accepts that he’s here to stay once he foils her plan to lock him out of the house by breaking back in; something that she likely respects deep down, seeing as she has been getting by for the last however long by stealing and selling bikes in the local area. But it does give her cause for concern – who is Jason, what does he do, and why is he here now?
What ensues is a game of cat and mouse that subverts our expectations again and again. Regan is such a skilful writer that she has crafted entirely real personalities for both Georgie and Jason in a swift 84-minute runtime, and as such it’s so easy to slip into Georgie’s cynicism towards him. Perhaps the nicest example is when Georgie is driven to search through Jason’s belongings to find out more about him, and we’re given multiple Chekhov’s Guns to look out for. Whether they all go off or not is really up to us to decide, but it creates a feeling that we’re coming to Georgie’s conclusions about Jason at the same time as she is.
Outside of the two central characters, there are some stranger approaches to storytelling. A theme that runs all the way through Scrapper is the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. Of course, Georgie initially rejects that in favour of raising herself, but we’re given multiple snippets of ‘The Office’-style pseudo-documentary inserts where characters speak directly to a camera about what they think of Georgie. The woman she sells her stolen bikes to, a popular girl from school, and the social services officers who’ve bought her story about a fake uncle, are all featured. They’re largely played for quick laughs though, in a film that is otherwise thought-provoking and heartbreaking. Instead of providing much-needed humour amongst a narrative that would be otherwise difficult to take emotionally (which seems to be at least part of the idea behind them), these inserts simply become distracting.
There’s enough substance in Scrapper that its flaws aren’t enough to supersede its qualities. Charlotte Regan’s debut feature knows the rules of its genres well enough that Scrapper is able to break them in consistently thoughtful ways, even if some might work better than others. That’s what elevates this to being such a worthwhile take on a story that isn’t often told.
Written by Rob Jones