PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 22: Director Charlotte Regan and Lola Campbell attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “Scrapper” Premiere at Prospector Square Theatre on January 22, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)
By Bailey Pennick
Georgie is more self-reliant than most adults you know. And that’s just fine with her, because she doesn’t need them mucking up the life she’s built by poking around her home. By the way, Georgie is a fiery 12-year-old hustler who is still living in the London council flat that she shared with her mom. But ever since her mother passed away of cancer, Georgie’s been dodging social workers and teachers’ concerns with well-timed sweet talk, pre-recorded conversations with her “uncle” (read: whatever corner store clerk will lie for her this week) whom she says she lives with, and the cash she makes from boosting bikes with her best friend.
This is the world that opens writer-director Charlotte Regan’s superb debut feature, Scrapper. When read in black and white, Georgie’s story seems to be the bedrock of a somber, gritty look at what happens when a child falls through the cracks, but Scrapper refuses to be that movie. It’s downright hilarious, vibrant, and full of life — just like Georgie.
“We wanted it to be about the joy of her existence,” explains Theo Barrowclough, the film’s producer, during the post-premiere discussion. “So if we strayed too much into that world [about who is watching her or the dangers of her living alone], that wouldn’t have felt right for the film.” And while there’s so much in her life that will break your heart, Georgie would be the first to tell you that she’s got it under control. That’s why when a man jumps over her backyard fence and says he’s her father (a nuanced and charming Harris Dickinson), we’re as skeptical about him as our pint-sized hero in her English football jersey.
She’s never met him, but he’s insisting on staying and making a real go of it as her dad. This is the shake-up that takes Georgie out of her comfortable survival-mode existence, bringing up more memories of her mother and, in turn, the reminder that she’s gone. Regan’s tender storytelling and close attention to small details highlight Georgie’s attempts to handle her grief. When Jason tries to use her mom’s mug one morning, Georgie snaps at him before giving him a mug of lesser importance. She brushes it off as another instance where he’s incapable of being her dad, but the honesty in her outburst and recovery betray her hardened exterior.
While Regan’s visual storytelling and direction nimbly intertwines the imaginative world of kids left to their own devices with the complicated realities of mourning and connection, it’s the performance of Lola Campbell that makes Scrapper shine. When asked about the development process for a character as infectious and lovable as Georgie, Regan immediately turns the spotlight onto her breakout star: “I can’t really take credit, because Lola is quite a moody, sassy grandma in a 12-year-old’s body.” Campbell blushes as she stands next to her director. “She offered a lot of the better dialogue and a lot of the better scenes herself,” Regan continues. “She should get a co-writing credit, really!”
The result of this cosmic collaboration is nothing short of extraordinary. As Jason and Georgie each learn (and fuck up and relearn) their new life roles — opening up to each other, while maintaining their tough exteriors — Campbell and Dickinson showcase how sweet and silly they both can be. Two sides of the same rough coin. When asked about working with her co-star, Campbell keeps it as real as Georgie would: “It was a bit hard to teach him to dance.” The audience and crew burst out laughing as she clarifies that she also thinks he’s a good actor.
It’s no wonder that Regan and Barrowclough built the entire film around Campbell; she embodies the resistance and the brutal honesty that a character like Georgie needs to be authentic. The young actor blossoms in the film’s quiet moments, contemplating how her world is seismically shifting again, and how she can hang on to the memory of her mom. On top of its creative visuals, quick wit, and universally relatable story of people just trying to do the right thing in the face of reality, Campbell’s raw talent is inspiring.
Scrapper breaks and warms your heart all at the same time. And isn’t confronting that conflicting swirl of emotions how we grow and learn through grief?