Scrapper probably won’t end up being the best film of 2023 – though it will be right up there come December. But it will certainly boast the year’s finest scene, a scene so brilliant, so quirky and so charming that you will relive it and relive it long after the credits have rolled.
A feisty, independent 12-year-old girl is sitting at a railway station with her estranged dad who has suddenly wandered back into her life. The bonding just isn’t happening. It’s not remotely clear whether either of them actually wants it terribly much anyway. And that’s when, pointing out a couple on the platform opposite, the dad suggests a game. Between them they are going to voice what the couple are saying to each other. The girl starts slowly, hesitantly, but then you sense her gain confidence. She ends up absolutely blitzing it with a surreal flight of fancy which is pure cinematic gold.
It’s the moment that this film will send you home with, a real treasure in a movie which is certainly uneven in places but still offers plenty of gorgeous gems, above all perhaps in the central performance of Lola Campbell as little Georgie, never seen without her football shirt on, always bustling, always busy as she organises her life alone following the death of her mother.
Georgie – and it’s another lovely scene – gets a shop assistant to record in a manly voice the bits of conversation she predicts she’s going to need for when the “social” phones. She then simply plays the phone clips back to give the impression that yes, young Georgie is being looked after by a responsible adult. The “social” are barely listening anyway – or at least just hearing what they want to hear. They don’t even see anything rather suspect in the fact that the uncle who has supposedly moved in to look after Georgie is called Winston Churchill. Such schemes leave Georgie free to roam the housing estate where she lives, nicking bikes with her best mate Ali (Alin Uzun) – a dreamy, oddly happy existence until the dad she’s never met, finally responding to her late mum’s SOS, hops it over the fence and walks into her life.
Harris Dickinson plays dad Jason, and he’s a dodgy geezer, but there’s something about him too; and the two of them skirt around each other as they try to work out whether they actually want each other in their lives. They are a long way from even beginning to think what the implications of that might be.
Scrapper is a low-key but heart-felt film. It’s witty, it’s poignant and you just can’t help but fall for Georgie, presumably the scrapper of the title, competently coping with things way beyond her years, somehow (well, illegally) making ends meet and cleverly playing the system. Meanwhile she’s got her secret room full of symbolism, a room where’s building and building ever higher in the hope of touching the sky where her mum now is. It’s a film full of beautiful heart-breaking touches, but it is funny too. Between them Campbell and Dickinson capture the awkwardnesses and the hesitations, and while you might question how likely it all is, there’s something streetwise poetic about it all that pulls you in irresistibly. It’s occasionally all a bit rough around the edges from writer/director Charlotte Regan, but actually the roughness ultimately seems just another part of the charm.