So you think it takes a village to raise a child? Well, Georgie (Lola Campbell) would like a word. The 12-year-old protagonist of Charlotte Regan’s lovely British drama “Scrapper” is pretty sure she can raise herself, thanks.
She proves it too, for a while. Though her beloved mum’s recent death has left her reeling, she’s dealing with her grief by taking the only approach possible: shut down practicality. She still runs the house just as her mother did — cleaning, getting ready for school, and paying bills.
Of course, she has to steal and resell bikes with her best friend Ali (Alin Uzun) to pay those bills, and she relies on the disinterest of social services to keep living alone in her small council flat. For the most part, she’s right that very few adults care enough to confirm her safety, but there was one adult who did: her mother, who reached out in desperation to Georgie’s long-gone dad, Jason (Harris Dickinson).
The pair split up as teens and he’s still a lost and overgrown adolescent at 30. But he figures he should at least check in on Georgie, if only to make sure she’s got enough food and money to keep her going for a while.
What happens next isn’t any great surprise: these two lost souls are actually soulmates, with the potential to grow past their internalized pain and confusion. But Regan, who also wrote the script, has so much empathy for them that she convinces us their story needs to be told.
She’s got great skill as a director, drawing us into two small lives so deftly that, in the moment, they’re all that matters. She lays out their features and flaws in a way that keeps us on a see-saw of worry and hope; will their almost comically evident similarities help or hurt them?
The story is familiar enough that it requires unerring lead performances, and though Regan has done an outstanding job working with her actors, credit must also go to casting director Shaheen Baig. Anyone who saw Dickinson as a preening model in “Triangle of Sadness” will be stunned that the rough-edged, painfully uncertain Jason is played by the same person. And Campbell, making a remarkable acting debut, is a truly rare find. Somehow she carries both Georgie’s burdens and most of the film on her slim shoulders, never once wavering into a false note.
Cinematographer Molly Manning Walker deepens the emotion by keeping the camera tight on our two heroes, while Billy Sneddon’s snappy editing offers essential tonal balance.
This is an immensely impressive feature launch for Regan, after a successful career making acclaimed music videos, but where “Scrapper” does falter is in her occasional hesitancy — there are times when she doesn’t fully trust the quietly beautiful premise she’s built. Because we believe wholeheartedly in Georgie and Jason, exaggerated caricatures of uncaring teachers (“Doesn’t take a whole day to grieve. Take a morning off. Get over it.”) or social workers (who cheerfully chat with Georgie’s nonexistent “uncle,” Winston Churchill) are dissonant distractions. There’s a place at Sundance for quirky characters like these, but “Scrapper” isn’t a festival movie; it’s a movie that happens to have premiered at a festival.
Speaking of which, Regan will surely have noticed the embrace of Charlotte Wells’ “Aftersun,” which has ridden a wave of critical adoration since its premiere at Cannes and is also about the bond between a troubled father and his tween daughter. Though the two films have much in common, it would be a shame for them to be compared, since the awards glow of “Aftersun” could easily overshadow the, well, scrappier “Scrapper.”
Fortunately, anyone who sees the latter is likely to become a loyal booster, which may help Georgie (and Regan) get the attention they deserve. For intimate indie films hoping to stand out in the crowd, it takes a village.
“Scrapper” makes its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.