Life is complicated.
We're not always what we seem. The people who seemingly have everything are often struggling as much as everyone else. The people who seemingly have nothing often have quite a bit more than what we might imagine.
Writer/director Vivian Kerr's Scrap exists in this world of complicated relationships and the inherent challenges we face in simply being human. The film, adapted from a short film written by Kerr and directed by Leena Pendharker, quietly yet beautifully captures a narrative tapestry of the influence of past traumas, the foibles of sibling relationships and dynamics, the masks we wear even amidst those we call family, and the myriad of ways in which we scrap our way toward something resembling a human existence.
Scrap centers itself around Beth, played by Kerr, who is putting on quite the facade for those around her while living in her car after a downsizing amplified an already existing financial instability as the single parent of Birdy (Julianne Layne). Parking herself nightly in one of L.A.'s nicer neighborhoods where she changes into silk pajamas and snuggles up inside her SUV, Beth's daily routines are a valiant and often successful attempt to both deny her reality and hide that reality from older brother Ben (Anthony Rapp) and his often judgmental wife, Stacy (Lana Parrilla) who are currently taking care of Birdy while Stacy is "out of town" for work.
Scrap tells a multi-layered, complicated story yet it never feels histrionic or forced. Being human is complicated, never really all good or all bad but frequently existing somewhere within the grayness of the human experience. Kerr's script captures these complexities well and refuses the easy labels we would often so easily find ourselves placing on these people.
Ben and Beth lost their musician parents at an early age, a trauma having both emotional and very practical components with the older Ben largely having been placed into a sibling caregiver role that he's never completely abandoned and from which Stacy willingly benefits. In some ways, it would seem that Ben has largely transcended this challenge as a successful franchise novelist and happily married man. It's clear that Ben has his own challenges both as a writer and in dealing with infertility issues alongside Stacy. However, looking in from the outside one would assume they lead the idyllic life.
Beth's challenges exist more on the surface, not quite readily apparent to the observant eye but still fairly obvious to anyone who would take a few moments to see. Beth struggles to maintain the image of how she sees herself perhaps because how she sees herself is a convoluted array of unrealistic expectations and unresolved turmoil caught in the cyclical nature of homelessness, trauma, and what it means to be in a family.
Having had its world premiere at the Deauville American Film Festival in 2022, Scrap continues its indie fest run with a recent appearance at Cinequest for the film's U.S. premiere and an upcoming selection at the Phoenix Film Festival set for March 30-April April 3rd. Scrap defies the usual Hollywood expectations of a conflict-filled high drama cinematic affair with a more deeply rooted narrative that leans into the nuances of daily life and daily relationships. Time and again, I found myself struck by the littlest moments in Scrap whether watching the subtle shifts in body language or facial expressions as dynamics changed or watching how Beth's make-up and hair would change depending upon her setting. It was the little things that truly immersed me in this world.
The relationship between Beth and Ben is essential to the success of Scrap and it's a relationship that always feels true and honest between Rapp and Kerr, both of whom return from the short film. Beyond obvious physical similarities, there's a natural comfort between the two that feels authentic and compelling. Both Rapp and Kerr beautifully capture the everyday intimacies of sibling life and also the shifting roles and dynamics than can make us hide our most vulnerable selves from those who ought to be the most equipped to receive it. It's clear that Beth carries more than a little shame being in her current situation and for what amounts to be a cyclical deception of the brother who, in her own words, essentially raised her.
Kerr seems to have such an innate understanding of Beth that you'll find herself wondering whether she's intimately familiar with this story or if this is simply the cinematic vehicle showing Hollywood her immense range. My gut feeling is the truth is somewhere in the middle, however, it's certain that Kerr offers up a beautiful weaving together of vulnerability and absolute light.
Anthony Rapp offers a similarly insightful and intuitive performance as Ben, whose issues often mirror those of Beth's but in a quieter and more socially acceptable way. It's quite the joy watching Rapp find the deeper places within Ben and watching him figure out his own writing future, his relationship with Beth, and unresolved dynamics with his wife. Devoid of unnecessary drama, Rapp gives a refreshingly human and honest performance that hooked me in and never let me go.
As Stacy, Lana Parrilla takes what could have easily been a one-note character and makes her so much more. There are scenes toward the end that left me in tears whether Stacy was dealing with infertility issues or the growing realizations she experiences with Beth. Parrilla's performance was so satisfying I found myself rushing over to IMDB to learn more about her.
Among the supporting players, Khleo Thomas particularly shines as Marcus while young Julianna Layne makes us wish she had a lot more screen time as the adorable Birdy.
Lensing by Markus Mentzer is striking for its boldness, brightness, and also jarring intimacy whether inside vehicles or existing between the silences of characters. Mentzer's lens captures the tension within Kerr's narrative yet also the quiet hopefulness. Mentzer's camera captures the dramatic nature of a story that could have easily been reduced to comedic moments in lesser hands. It's quite masterful work.
After two shorts, Scrap is the feature directorial debut of Vivian Kerr and presents her as a gifted storyteller whose attention to detail adds depth and meaning to both characters and their stories. Kerr is a relational filmmaker who seems to understand the gift of connection within storytelling and within filmmaking. Kerr clearly embraces Beth's complexities along with the complexities of the world around her. With intelligence and insight, Scrap brings all of these complexities to life and one can only hope it finds the audience it so richly deserves.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic