"Visually, it might be Britain's answer to The Florida Project, but thematically it's a very different beast"SAM ALLEN WITH PERMISSION FOR VARSITY

“What stage of grief are you at now?” Georgie’s best mate asks her at the beginning of Scrapper. “I think I’m almost finished,” she replies, crossing “bargaining” off a list she’s written and stuck on the fridge.

Georgie is a 12-year-old girl living alone in a flat after her single mum has passed away, having successfully convinced social services that she’s actually living with her uncle ‘Winston Churchill’. She’s making do on her own, earning money by stealing and selling bikes, and spending her summer holiday playing with her best (and only) friend Ali. Suddenly, though, her long-held belief that she doesn’t need anything from anyone gets shattered when Jason, her biological dad, turns up at the flat and wants to be a part of her life for the very first time.

Most reviews of Scrapper are highlighting its break-away from the traditions of kitchen-sink realism, and while it’s true that Charlotte Regan seems to intentionally swap dreary, washed-out colour palettes for bright primary hues, I don’t think that’s necessarily the most noteworthy thing about the film. Visually, it might be Britain’s answer to The Florida Project, but thematically it’s a very different beast.

“Regan seems to intentionally swap dreary, washed-out colour palettes for bright primary hues”

For me, it’s the depiction of experiencing grief for the first time as a child that really makes this film something special. When I lost someone for the first time, I too became obsessed with the ‘five stages of grief’, and I too thought that keeping everything the same as it was would somehow stop the loss from being real. Georgie insists on positioning the sofa cushions exactly how her mum had them, and watches the same video of her every night before she goes to sleep. When Ali’s mum asks her how she’s doing, she whispers “dance” in Ali’s ear, and they distract her by breaking out into a rehearsed dance number. Her coping mechanisms are childish and naïve, but they are also, in some sense, universal. Grief turns all of us into our most vulnerable selves, and this film understands that perfectly.

Scrapper is also far more formally interesting than simply not being a standard social-realist film. Regan plays with surprising but effective elements of magical realism throughout the film; there are unexpected fourth wall breaks, glimpses into Georgie and Ali’s wild imaginations, and even talking spiders. While some of the quips made by said spiders fall a little flat, and feel slightly like the film is trying too hard to do something unconventional, the other techniques are refreshing and often laugh-out-loud hilarious. The cut-aways to the social services department were a particular highlight – clever satire combined with exaggerated colouring exposes the grim reality of the underfunded system that fails so many, while also managing to make you laugh in the process.

“Regan plays with surprising but effective elements of magical realism”

It is almost impossible to believe that this is Regan’s feature debut, and that lead actress Lola Campbell had never previously spoken a single word of scripted dialogue. Campbell, just 12 years old like her character Georgie, is an instant star; her chemistry with fellow actor Harris Dickinson is almost incomprehensible given that she’d never had to build that kind of working relationship before. Dickinson gives a beautiful performance as the emotionally complex, sensitive father figure, challenging representations of working-class fathers in British cinema, and solidifying himself as one of the most exciting actors working today. The pair bounce off each other in every scene; they go from hesitancy and awkwardness to utter hysterics when Jason plays a game of inventing strangers’ conversations and finally makes Georgie’s hardened exterior crack. In those moments, it’s easy to forget that Dickinson has been on dozens more film sets than his co-star, making Campbell’s ability to match up to his onscreen presence all the more impressive.


Mountain View

Making memories with Past Lives

The film also marks Regan’s debut as a writer, and it’s her script that really underpins the success of the entire project. The fact is that through departing from the tropes we expect to see of films in this genre, Regan succeeds in crafting undeniably realistic dialogue that never feels pandering or contrived, but truly grounded and genuine. Georgie and Ali talk how actual 12-year-olds talk to each other, and Jason makes the jokes that just about every dad makes. While the bright colours and punchy comedy help this film to stand out among other British working-class dramas, what really makes it work are the strength of the performances and the subtlety of the script.

Towards the end of the film, Campbell delivers the beautiful line, “Now that I know you, I can’t really not know you.” It’s safe to say that once you’ve watched this film, you can’t really not love it.

Scrapper is currently showing in UK cinemas