Part crime caper, part cheeky comedy, this Brit flick about a young bicycle thief who reunites with the dad she's never met builds to a surprising emotional wallop.
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“Now that I know you, I can’t really not know you.” — Georgie
“Scrapper” is a movie that sneaks up you.
It starts off as a crime caper, a cheeky comedy really, about a 12-year-old bicycle thief named Georgie. Played with great conviction and big emotions by Lola Campbell, she skips school most every day and instead plies her smarts at snatching bikes from all over her working-class British neighborhood, usually with her best (read: only) friend, Ali (Alin Uzun), standing lookout.
They have great fun doing so, cutting up and carrying on, and being kids can talk their way out of trouble most anytime it presents itself. In an amusing early encounter, they convince another girl that they’re actually roving bicycle safety inspectors — thus explaining the half-dismantled state of her ride.
But Georgie hocks the bikes not out of a sense of kleptomania, though clearly she gets a thrill from stealing. She actually needs the money to pay for her rent and food, her mother having passed away a few months ago after a short illness. She has continued living in their flat all on their own, even spending the requisite time to do the vacuuming and other cleaning.
She’s able to keep this grift going through a combination of moxie and the bureaucratic stupidity of adults. For instance, she’s forged records that her uncle has come to look after her, the one with the totally plausible name of Winston Churchill. She even fakes her way through check-in phone calls from the authorities by recording bits of humdrum conversation from a local shop clerk and playing them back at the right prompt.
Immediately, we form an attachment to Georgie. She’s smart, gutsy and gets away with stuff adults would be afraid to even attempt.
Of course, some small part of her knows this cannot go on forever.
Then one day a ridiculous young man, a complete tosser named Jason, climbs over the fence into her yard and says he’s her father. Where he’s been the last 12 years, who knows — certainly he isn’t saying. And he definitely hasn’t been sending them any money to help out.
Jason (Harris Dickinson), with his Eminem peroxide haircut, chains and baggy shorts, is obviously a low-level con man of some sort. He mumbles something about selling tickets when Ali asks after his job. We suspect he’s come round not out of a latent sense of paternalistic duty but because he’s in a fix.
He soon sets up in the apartment with Georgie and insists that he’ll stay as long as he wants — or will call the school authorities if she makes trouble.
Things go on from there, about how you’d expect. They clash and fight, briefly join their criminal enterprises together and discover a common skill, and slowly, and quite gently, something like familial bonds starts to take root.
Despite the fact we know exactly where this is going, writer/director Charlotte Regan, in her first feature film, manages to make what does happen authentic and even surprising. Georgie is a closed-off kid, small for her size, and wears a hearing aid (something never commented upon). Her first instinct is always to fight and scrap, as in an encounter with a snotty classmate, Layla (Freya Bell).
So when she starts to open her heart to Jason, it’s like watching a feral cat sniffing at an offered morsel of food, abandoned and harboring every reason to be afraid, and finally reaching out a tender paw.
Of course, you can’t make a decent movie about a child without a tremendous kid actor, and Lola Campbell is just a revelation as Georgie — tough, cagey, resentful, yet powerfully endearing. She’s taken a lot of wrong steps in her young life, yet we never doubt her inner worth.
In a spare room, Georgie is building a tower of bicycle parts and spare parts, up and up, for seemingly no reason at all. Where is she going? Who knows, maybe not even she. But part of her knows she needs to ascend from her lowly rut.
Who could do better, with the hand she’s been dealt?