Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 05, 2023 11:51 pm 
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Working class panache

No, the light, airy Scrapper isn't much akin to Andrea Arnold's devastating 2009 Fish Tank. The man Jason (Harris Dickinson) who wangles his way in with the the 12-year-old girl Georgie (Lola Campbell), not much more than a boy really, is not her dead mother's boyfriend (like Michael Fassbinder in Fish Tank) but her father, who comes back belatedly after her mother, his wife, has died of an illness. Georgie is surviving alone in a council house, quite well, she thinks - it's part of her denial - pretending she's with a fake uncle, whom she calls Winston Churchill, whom she impersonates for authorities with recordings played over a desk style phone. She survives by stealing bikes she sells to a local woman who keeps them in lockup, and in between beats other girls up and works on the "five stages of grief," for she is a "proper weirdo" and a tricky talker and thinks she can do everything herself. It can't last.

This was a belated, lucky find for me thanks to consulting Indiewire's Best 15 First Features of 2023. It was a big hit at Sundance in January 2023, winning the "World Cinema Grand Jury Prize Dramatic," and well noticed at the British Independent Film Awards, and it showed in 19 or 20 festivals. But it seems to have largely slipped through the cracks for the American public - and me - after a late summer release. It's all over the platforms now though, and you can see it. Little Lola Campbell is a weirdo - and a delight, and the malleable Harris Dickinson is spot-on as the man-child who left when George was born and now, maybe, is going to make up for it. Or just be there. She doesn't need him to be her mother, Georgie tells Jason.

Jason has been selling tickets for clubs in Ibiza. He wears boyish shorts and his scruffy bleached hair makes him look like "a poundshop Eminem," as Peter Bradshaw puts in his favorable Guardian review. It's a "coolly assured and sympathetic performance." I was expecting that: Dickinson seems to me to have a light touch: he's putty in the hands of any director, which can be said of surprisingly few young, good looking actors these days. Dickinson looks like just a pretty boy, but don't be fooled. This time pecs are concealed and more of the heart shows, and it's a gentle one.

The most spot-on of the British Independent nominations Scrapper received - unfortunately not an award, was for "Best Joint Lead Performance." This is absolutely that, a duo turn, and one that's delightful and fun. The whole movie is playful and fresh. Not all the gimmicks seem totally necessary: some of the tricky editing and noisy scene-shifts (though the latter give a style) and the breakaway still-shots of various subsidiary characters striking poses and delivering voiceovers or the spiders proclaiming things may seem unnecessary, at worst distracting. (But some of them are very good, too.) The criticism may be leveled that action as a whole is a bit implausible. But through it all the charm stays, and the moments when dad and daughter play off each other as equals are special.

That's not the only pair, because before Jason suddenly appears - not at all welcome on arrival, so that he must threaten to give Georgie away to the council to gain her admission to the house - there is the other duo, Georgie and Ali (Alin Uzun), her taller young friend and inseparable mate, who "often have aimless improv-type conversations which may owe a little to the child acting of TV’s 'Outnumbered,'" Bradshaw says. It is an artistically elegant irony that George's dad is, in a way, just a larger replacement of her young sidekick.

I have only seen Harris Dickinson three times, in Beach Rats, Triangle of Sadness,, and this, but he clearly gets the best role here, where his character's superficiality becomes winning, sympathetic, and real. Jason is a well-meaning tabula rasa. He hasn't had a chance to be a real dad. He hasn't done anything. He doesn't know if he can. He promises Georgie he will "mess up a lot." She's possibly more grown up than he is, but she promises to "mess up too." The moment when they share this confession and a hug is touching and sweet. This film is a rare delight.

Scrapper leaves one with a happy feeling. It's not a stunner like Fish Tank certainly, but it heralds Charlotte Regan as an exciting new British filmmaker.

Scrapper, 84 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 22, 2023, appearing in 19 other festivals, US and international. US, Ireland and UK theatrical release Aug. 25, 2023. Metacritic rating: 74.

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