British music video director Charlotte Regan's debut feature tells the whimsical yet melancholy story of the titular scrapper, Georgie, a 12-year-old living alone in an East London council flat ever since her mother's premature death. Georgie, played in a firecracker juvenile performance by the feisty Lola Campbell, survives by stealing bikes with her best pal Ali (Alin Uzun) and selling them for scrap metal to a local chop-shop. She fools the overworked and under-interested school and social service authorities by recording random sentences from the neighborhood convenience store clerk on her phone and playing them back as responses when the uncle she supposedly lives with gets check-up phone calls. But when her absentee father, played by Harris Dickinson (Beach Rats, Where the Crawdads Sing, Triangle of Sadness), suddenly shows up, Georgie is forced to start dealing with the reality of her situation.
Watching the movie, I couldn't help unfavorably (and perhaps unfairly) comparing it to Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank (2009), perhaps because of the similar setting, though there are a lot of movies about young people living in London public housing. (Interestingly, Fish Tank star Michael Fassbender is an exec-producer on this picture). Perhaps Regan is explicitly trying to stand apart from those bleak dramas about life in council flats by peppering her movie with comical asides. Or maybe she's just a music video director who doesn't trust her story enough to see how much better it would be without these quirky injections of generic humor. Either way, the straightforward narrative is broken up by reality-TV-style testimonials from the supporting characters who directly address the camera to tell us what they really think of Georgie (and to fill in the backstory efficiently but lazily). We're also treated to the running commentary of some snarky spiders who share the apartment with Georgie.
It's telling that these devices pretty much disappear from the movie as soon as Dad shows up and the relationship between the two main characters gets going. It is as if Regan realized halfway through that movies about children living on their own and stories about kids reconnecting with estranged parents almost always engage an audience without the help of silly and distracting comic diversions. If only she'd removed those from the rest of the film. The dynamic she creates between a prematurely grown-up child who has had to learn to fend for herself and an immature father who avoided his responsibilities when his child's mother gave him an easy exit is both affecting and somewhat original.
Charlotte Regan's debut about a scrappy 12-year-old living alone in an East London council flat who reconnects with her immature father, is affecting and well-acted, but suffers from an abundance of whimsy.