Georgie, the apt 12-year-old protagonist of “Scrapper,” is a near-professional bicycle thief. A specialist in lock-picking and quick getaways, he steals two-wheelers, fixes them or strips them for parts and sprays their reassembled frames with a fresh coat of paint before sending them on their way. Charlotte Regan, the freshman writer-director of this remarkable British dramedy, knows a thing or two about making something new and shiny out of stolen parts. Tracking the slow but inevitable thawing of the relationship between Georgie and the estranged father who returns to her life, Regan’s debut recaptures a host of familiar elements from various kitchen-sink dramas and dysfunctional parent-child stories, painting them in colors that captivate audiences. . Never mind the odd bit of rust.
Still, viewed next to other recent breakouts from the British indie bracket — not least another bittersweet father-daughter study directed by a freshman named Charlotte — this premiere at Sundance’s World Drama Competition can’t help but feel a little second-hand. Even its oddest stylistic flourishes, notably a mockumentary framing device that sees minor characters commenting on subjects from the sidelines, aren’t exactly daring. What viewers may find most fresh about “Scraper” is the peppy aesthetic and springy pastel palette it applies to a genre and environment traditionally dominated by grit and gray. If this lends a precious fairy-tale air to this piece of social realism, that seems to be the point.
As Georgie, charmingly spunky newcomer Lola Campbell fits right in with this superior blend of Ken Loach and Wes Anderson. Pulling off silly dialogue with cheeky comic timing and a killer command of withering eye rolls, he’s a natural, but a performer in every respect. This may be fitting, given that Georgie, who has been living alone in a shabby council house in London since her mother died of cancer, is used to lying to teachers, social workers and concerned adults about her home situation. , and to everyone, even himself, that he is more right than he is. Only his friend Ali (Alin Uzun) — his only colleague willing to put up with his bad temper — knows how alone he is, and can only do so much to fill the void.
That is, until Georgie’s father, Jason (the amazing Harris Dickinson), appears on the scene without warning, bailing out on his daughter and her mother years ago to chase the sweet life on the Costa del Sol. Abruptly returning home despite Georgie’s attempts to evict her, she soon proves effective enough as a buffer against the snooping adults, but she’s determined not to warm to him — until, inevitably, they discover they’re just DNA. has more similarities than
No surprises here as these two sly waste mend their relationship, and with a running time of just 84 minutes, there’s little time to rifle through their deeper, darker baggage. But the reunion is touching, thanks in no small part to the angsty, believable conviction Dickinson brings to the potentially stock character of a bad boy that’s well-crafted. Jason was barely a man when Georgie was born, thus justifying his abandonment of her childhood; A decade later, his badly bleached crew cuts and gym-rat wardrobes are the only immediately obvious signs that he still has a lot of growing to do. But Dickinson, both funny and foggy, plays Jason’s childhood with the nerve of sadness, a sense that he’s on the brink of self-destruction — and will bring his daughter back from it, whether he wants her help or not.
Those hints of hard, ugly truth sit a bit awkwardly with “Scrappers'” overriding subtlety, not quite belonging to the same world where rows of government housing are painted in matching ice cream colors, where Georgie’s terrorist classmates editorialize on camera (originally in Super 16 composition) coordinated outfits. While wearing, or where, in the film’s most overtly whimsical digression, the spiders speak their wall-flying thoughts in comic-style speech bubbles. (Georgie, tough customer that she is, is soft-hearted enough to resist vacuuming them in the living room.)
DP Molly Manning Walker’s vivid, stock-shifting lensing negotiates the film’s toggling emotions between social and magical realism, while production designer Elena Muntoni finds a clever balance between mundanely escapist decorative flourishes — like cotton-candy wall clouds and a bedroom wall painting. Real flights of Georgie’s imagination, such as the scrap-metal tower he builds into the sky in a locked spare room. Reality eventually makes a cruel but necessary intrusion into her life and into Reagan’s image: both are powerful for disruption.