Charlotte Regan’s debut feature film Scrapper starts with the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”, only to have it rebuffed by the 12-year-old precocious protagonist, Georgie (Lola Campbell): “I can raise myself. Thanks.” Following the death of her mother, she prefers living alone in their shabby flat in the needy neighbourhood to being taken care of by someone else.
The singular situation, of her own making, leaves the audience with a swell of contradictory emotions. On the one hand, is the amusement at her chutzpah, the way she tricks the social security services; on the other is the sad realisation that the deliberate search for privacy stems obviously from her inability to reconcile with the deep loss. As she goes about vacuuming her home while keeping the spiders safe, stealing bikes to earn a living, chatting with and confiding in her only friend Ali (Ali Uzun) and striking off yet another step on her “Five Stages of Grief” poster, you can sense that a lot is unresolved behind the seeming stoicism. “I will get out of it quick,” she says bravely.
Will she? Isn’t she pretending to be ok, even to herself, when she isn’t quiet? You can feel the depths of her pain as she sees the videos of herself with her mom on the mobile or takes refuge in the scrap-filled room or when she runs away to the hideout outside to have a good cry under the stars. She appeals to and invokes our collective feeling of protectiveness in the face of her extreme vulnerability.
Regan creates an uncommon, refreshingly offbeat exploration of a child’s inarticulate bereavement, grief and loneliness in Scrapper that premiered at the recently concluded Sundance Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize for the World Cinema Dramatic competition. It could have easily lapsed into either the maudlin and sentimental or the way too light and breezy. But Regan keeps it poised well on the bittersweet and poignant as she goes about experimenting with the tone, tenor and style, peppering the narrative with idiosyncratic speech bubbles and random, direct-to-camera comments of the community Georgie lives in. It feels just as real in its essential grimness as it is wacky and whimsical and, much as it might seem, it’s not an awkward marriage of the two.
It’s tough not to see Scrapper in the light of Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun when Georgie’s estranged father Jason (Harris Dickinson) makes a sudden entry into her life. A father who hasn’t ever met her and who she hasn’t heard about.
Just as there is something similar about every parent-child relationship, these ties are all bound to be very different as well. So, while the dynamic of the father-daughter duo may not be as searing and sublime as Aftersun, there is something decidedly heart-warming about Scrapper as our initial concern for her, the doubts about him and his motives, lead to empathy for their struggles in connecting with each other and the world.
Campbell and Dickinson are perfectly in tune with each other in the two-hander. There’s something decidedly similar about them—he is an overgrown adolescent, a man who is still the boy; she is a kid who has decided to grow up hurriedly, both misfits in the world. There is a sense of parity in their conversations with each other. He wants to get to know her, and she demands an explanation—why now, after 12 years? His confession of not being prepared for fatherhood makes her wonder if he even tried.
It’s a tricky negotiation between the two, made knottier by the ghost of the past and memories of the one person who meant the world to her and who is now no longer beside her. But it’s she who brings them together, the mother is the glue that eventually binds the father and daughter. Georgie lets Jason in, into her world, admitting that she’d rather be with someone than stick it alone but with the condition attached that he would not replace her mother.
Despite the hiccups and missteps, there’s hope that they will get along and be there for each other. It’s a journey from distances, distrust and disputes to tentative cuddles and warm hugs. A journey from personal voids to belonging and being.