You won’t find any more poised performers of any age than Lola Campbell, the ferocious talent at the heart of “Scrapper,” enough to convince you that her character Georgie’s scheme wouldn’t be questioned in the wake of her mother’s passing. Although writer/director Charlotte Regan wisely refrains from detailing exactly how the 12-year-old Georgie has managed to keep the flat she shared with her mother under her control with the local authorities and neighbors largely being none the wiser for so long – at least for now, an invented uncle “Winston Churchill” handles potentially dicey phone calls and she steals bikes with her pal Ali (Alin Uzun) to pay for groceries – you can understand why no one would think to ask, given Campbell’s sheer force of personality in the role, perhaps the most sophisticated prepubescent turn this side of Tatum O’Neal in “Paper Moon.”
There are also no questions left about Regan’s considerable gifts as a filmmaker as “Scrapper” wears on, a marvelous comedy set on the outskirts of London where a reality that’s rather spare becomes a place that dreams are made of. Georgie doesn’t only have to put her mind to outwitting social services as a means of survival, but simply to entertain herself when she’s all alone, having come up with names for the different spiders crawling around the flat with complete their own attitudes and envisioning those living in the flats around her are living in movies of their own, whether it’s the three sharply dressed triplets her age outfitted in black and yellow suits or the set of pink girls she’d rather have nothing to do with. Ali is as good a friend as they come, and his mother thinks nothing of letting him go over to her place as much as he wants, but a full-time companion would be more ideal and Georgie may wonder about what she’s wished for when her long-gone father Jason (Harris Dickinson) comes crawling over the back fence.
Though it’s the first time Georgie is seeing Jason, it likely isn’t the first time you’ve seen this derelict dad before on screen, yet he’s far more difficult for an audience to dismiss than for his self-sufficient daughter when Dickinson gives such a winning performance where one can tell it isn’t only his Nottingham soccer jersey that’s been passed down to her when both aren’t afraid of courting trouble and are savvy about getting out of it. While the two would seem to be giving into nature by starting to bond as a parent and child, Regan considers what if they’re actually fighting against it when both relish their independence which has served them reasonably well in their time apart. For all their scheming, it might be impossible for Georgie and Jason to believe how much better they could be together, yet it isn’t for an audience when Dickinson and Campbell have such a strong gravitational pull towards one another and in a film as wonderfully imaginative as “Scrapper,” the biggest crime is thinking small.