Scrapper Charlotte Regan (UK; 2023) Lola Campbell, Alin Uzun
viewed Tyneside Cinema 31st August 2023; ticket £11.75
“It’s a scrapper!”
Charlotte Regan’s ‘Scrapper’ portends to be a film about a child, 12 year old Georgie who has been brought up by her mother. The situation is that after Georgie’s mum dies, she manages to continue living by herself in their family home on an East End Estate. Then she’s suddenly confronted with the re-appearance of her dad Jason, who abandoned her when she was a baby and whom she has never known.
There is a significant roll call of movies with children at the heart of their script: Truffaut’s 400 Coups, Bresson’s Mouchette, Clio Bernard’s The Selfish Giant, all of these directors work to locate us in the world of child. We see something of what the child sees, the scripts open up alien vistas out of kilter with the way things are normally understood by adults. But Regan’s movie is not about a child. Regan’s protagonist, 12 year old Georgie is a transposed adult woman and the film is about adult relationships.
‘Scrapper’ opens with a sequence of Georgie hoovering, doing the housework. The film closes with Georgie and dad Jason becoming friends, the final shot shows them walking off hand in hand into the sunset.
The film seems to actually chronicle the subsuming of Georgie into her mother’s persona scripting the reconciliation of what had been failed relationship. Georgie’s presentation as a child by Regan doesn’t work. Dressing her up in an old football top and leaving her hair dangling in a pigtail is simple window dressing, it can’t disguise what’s in the shop. Georgie in poise attitude and dialogue is a contemporary woman; there is no vision of the child, no entry into the parallel space of the seeing of the unformed mind.
Consequently this is a film in which the Regan’s script is unable to set any real tensions into play. In the films of Bresson Bernard and Truffaut that centre on the child, the scripts work in a particular way by engendering critical tensions between the worlds as experienced and acted on by the child protagonists, and the realities of the grown up world. Tensions that are endemic in the mismatch between the formed and the unformed psyche, the attached and unattached consciousness; perhaps the types of tensions that play out today in the kind of knife crime committed by children.
But Georgie is not a child: she enters the film as a preformed adult without emotional or psychic tensions between her and the world. Without tensions ‘Scrapper’ becomes a dead movie, dull beyond distraction offering the viewer only the slow play out of what turns into the closure of a faux-romantic relationship.
This narrative trope is reinforced by the care taken by Regan over the art direction of ‘Scrapper’. Much has been made of Regan’s design, in particular the colourisation of ‘Scrapper’, it’s candy coloured gloss suggesting her film as a contemporary ‘Disney’ style fairy-tale, a ballad of a returning Prince rescuing a Princess. With the transformative technology of digital editing systems, Regan’s colouring mimics the type of look used by films such ‘Barbie’ and foisted on us by adverts whose creators of course aim to lure us into associating their products with a make believe wish fulfilment. Regan’s adoption of this look, which she justifies as giving up-lift to the usual down beat depiction of Working Class life, seems to me disingenuous: as if subsuming working class life into the world of MacDonalds and late capitalist consumerist projections makes everything better.
If the film says anything at this point it’s that all relationships have become infantilised, but it is not clear that Regan intended her film to be such a sophisticated parody of contemporary life.
Regan’s problems in understanding the issues implicit in building scripts centred about the child may stem from her script which replaces content with form. Given that there are no structural tensions built into the scenario Regan has opted to give her film an interpolated form. The action is regularly interrupted by regularly cutting away to a series of characters who are scripted to give an opinion or make a judgement about what has been going on in Georgie’s life.
Like as if I write: “Macdonald’s I’m loving it.”
Her notion was perhaps to create a form of visual interchange that would serve to energise ‘Scrapper’. This sort of structural device is well exercised in current cinema adverts and the Macdonald’s ad before Regan’s movie was certainly a case in point. But what works for a two minute ad doesn’t transfer to a feature film; the more these tricksy devices were repeated the less they delivered. Regan seems to have believed she could make her film work by gimmicks rather than understanding the forces her idea might release.
There is little left to say. The scenario is monopaced, and overlong. It’s easy to see that some sequences in ‘Scrapper’ have been over-extended so that the film can collapse over the finishing line of ‘feature film length’ demanded by the ‘Money’. The script is plodding, mostly badly written. When I saw the film at the Tyneside, the sound was strange, in particular the dialogue tracks. It may have been the cinema’s system but Georgie’s voice in particular had a peculiar hyper real quality.
There were 6 people in the cinema, a large 300 seat auditorium. It felt like they were present to witness the death of cinema if films like this keep getting made. I don’t know what meaning Regan intended to be understood by her title ‘Scrapper’, but before I saw this film I had always understood it to be a colourful term used by second hand car salesmen to describe a vehicle that had been sold to a punter which should have been scrapped. ‘It’s a scrapper’.