Sundance 2023: Inventive Working-Class Drama ‘Scrapper’ Reflects on the Complexities of a Child’s Grief

This is one in a series of film reviews from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, focused on films by women, trans or nonbinary directors that tell compelling stories about the lives of women and girls.

Lola Campbell appears in Scrapper by Charlotte Regan, an official selection of the World Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. (Chris Harris / Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

There’s something both familiar and fresh about Scrapper, the debut feature of writer and director Charlotte Regan, who’s been directing music videos since her teens. Winner of Sundance’s World Cinema Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic category, Regan’s working-class British drama has a straightforward premise that belies its nuanced commentary on imagination, grief, love and family.

Twelve-year-old Georgie (beautifully and believably played by Lola Campbell in her first role) recently lost her mother to an unnamed illness. Still, she’s doing just fine on her own, thank you very much. She’s walking herself through the five stages of grief. She’s living on her own and has managed to trick the social workers into thinking she’s living with an uncle. She’s keeping her and her mom’s small apartment clean, cooking for herself and stealing bikes with her best friend Ali (Alin Uzun) to make money for rent and food. To cope emotionally, she watches videos of her mom on her smartphone and seems to be building a scrapheap tower in a locked bedroom to mysterious ends.

Then a young man shows up claiming to be her father and upends Georgie’s carefully crafted life. Jason (Harris Dickinson) turns out to be telling the truth—it’s just that he hasn’t been around since Georgie was a baby, and they don’t really know each other at all.

For a while, both father and daughter struggle to negotiate a relationship built only around their memories of a woman who is gone. Jason seems as unsure how to be a father—or even if he wants to be—as Georgie is doubtful of his suitability as a parent—particularly since she has convinced herself she doesn’t need anyone.

Harris Dickinson and Lola Campbell appear in Scrapper by Charlotte Regan. (Chris Harris / Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Georgie has an active imagination and her head in the clouds, sometimes quite literally, and the film echoes her whimsical nature by breaking filmic narrative convention through a number of quirky contrivances: stylized dream sequences, talking spiders, first-person interviews with people in Georgie’s life that seem to come from nowhere. Far from gimmicky, these moments help break up the seriousness of Georgie’s emotional reckoning. If anything, Regan could have embraced these devices even more; they add a layer of innovation and surprising empathy to the film and Georgie’s perspective that sets Scrapper apart from other similarly positioned working-class dramas.

Georgie’s fantasies insulate her from the loss of her mother, but they also block her from truly grieving. When a series of incidents cause Georgie to spiral with rage, fear, and confusion, it’s Jason and his connection with her absent mother than eventually ground her.

A tight film at just under 90 minutes, Scrapper conveys a great deal about its characters through small interactions and the mundanities of everyday life, bringing viewers into empathetic alignment with Georgie, if only to remind us that self-sufficiency isn’t the only way to show strength.  

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Aviva Dove-Viebahn is an assistant professor of film and media studies at Arizona State University and a contributing editor for Ms.' Scholar Writing Program.