What at first looks like a recognizable coming-of-age indie that echoes the social realism of a Ken Loach movie ends up taking some very uneven detours in Charlotte Regan’s mediocre first feature, Scrapper. A tale of a 12-year-old Georgie (Lola Campbell) coping with the grief of her lost mother and living in poverty that is comparable to Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. Both films offer brutal truths about childhood neglect within a fairly well-intended narrative, but the tone is all over the place and bounces between quirky humor and social realism. The end result is a film that struggles with two irreconcilable visions that don’t quite mesh well on a thematic or dramatic level. Some may have been moved by the third act, but it felt underplayed by Regan’s missteps.
The celebrated Sundance indie begins with Georgie residing in her cramped in apartment alone and going off with her friend, Ali (Alin Uzun), who resides in the same apartment complex. They go into town to steal bicycle parts so they can sell them for money. During these moments, the film hints as if you are watching a Mike Leigh or Loach film, then it goes to feeling cutesy as Georgie persuades social services that she has an uncle named Winston Churchill. The most ill-advised moments include the documentary-style interviews with boxed-in aspect ratios with various people in her apartment complex neighborhood. Even the aesthetics are at odds, as the exteriors feel muted and toned to obviously represent the horrors of the outside world, but the interior decor and foregrounds are more colorful and come across as fiddly.
Eventually, Georgie’s father, Jason (Harris Dickinson, from Triangle of Sadness), returns home from Spain, forces himself into the apartment, and he demands that he stay with her for the time being. During a very awkward scene at a cafe, Georgie and Ali begin to speculate on what Jason does for a living, and we have broad cutaways of him dressed as a vampire and as a gangster that feel like they belong in a Hollywood family movie. These types of odd creative decisions undermine the social realism and emotional clarity of the film, where the characters aren’t given much character depth on conflict that co-opts the potential naturalism that Regan hints at. Even the set-up of Jason using the tragic events of her mom passing as a place to live holds dramatic potential, but there is no complex human emotion or gusto to be found. Everything ends up feeling safe and warm, up until the cloyingly sentimental third act, which is very forced and unearned.
While Regal’s vision is commendable, showcasing the story of an impoverished young girl reconnecting with her estranged father has the markings of being something alluring. The material never allows for the actors to convincingly embody the distraught mindset of class struggle or even a child in peril. As the film unravels arduously, it leaves you feeling like you should be more emotionally invested than you are.
Scrapper is now playing in limited theaters and on VOD