Whilst it’s easy to pick how Scrapper – Charlotte Regan‘s impossibly charming comedy/drama – will end when all is said and done, the central performances from newcomer Lola Campbell and Harris Dickinson as a feisty, self-reliant 12-year-old and her man-child father, respectively, are what keeps the quirky narrative continually engaging.
It’s one of those “message” movies about being thankful for what you have, but Regan’s script never comes across as if it’s peddling such too far down the audience’s throat; although she does have fun pointing to the ineptitude of school and social welfare programs, with some amusing to-camera dialogues surrounding Campbell’s 12-year-old Georgie. She’s just lost her poor mother, but she’s been living in their council flat on her lonesome, managing to pay the bills and keeping ahead of any social check-ups by claiming she’s living with her uncle; she manages to persuade the local convenience store clerk to record an assortment of random lines that Georgie plays back to those checking up on her.
There’s no definitive time as to how long Georgie has been living on her own, but it’s clearly been enough for some to raise suspicion on this supposed uncle – who she so happens to name Winston Churchill, again leaning into the commentary on adult authority and their lack of investigation. As the film opens with an on-screen scrawl of “It takes a village to raise a child,” it makes all the more sense that those words been scribbled out to favour “I can raise myself, thanks.” Georgie is evidently the most capable character in her environment, and the film celebrates this often.
The only person aware of Georgie’s charade is her friend Ali (Alin Uzun), and whilst he’s more than happy to play along, you sense he knows she can’t keep this up for much longer, so the arrival of Jason (Dickinson, superb) comes at the most opportune time – or inopportune for Georgie who is defiant in her views of not needing parental supervision. You see, Jason is Georgie’s father – he left to go sell party tickets in Ibiza off the back of being too young when he and Georgie’s mother fell pregnant – and though Georgie is under the impression he abandoned them, Jason assures that Georgie’s mother didn’t want him around.
Georgie is naturally short with Jason, and whilst he lightly takes it as he understands her frustrations, it doesn’t take him long to bite back, evading her tactics and ultimately threatening to expose her; “Remember I can tell the social workers whenever I want, so drop the attitude.” Of course, Georgie and Jason are more alike than either would like to admit – her more so – and the film gradually warms as the two navigate their dynamic and start to piece together who the other truly is.
Blending a temperament that’s both sarcastic and sweet – and occasionally quirky, as there are some truly bizarre cuts revolving around house spiders and their thought process – Scrapper, as simple a film it may be on the surface, has a bite to it that Regan continually hones with assurance. It’s also to the film’s benefit that it has such performers as Campbell and Dickinson at its core, without which Scrapper may not have been as successful in its execution.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Scrapper is screening as part of this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, running in cinemas between August 3rd and 20th, 2023, and online through MIFF Play August 18th and 27th, 2023. For more information head to the official MIFF page. It is scheduled for a national release in Australian theatres on September 14th, 2023.
Scrapper was originally reviewed as part of our Sydney Film Festival coverage.