Tracey Fragments, The (Canada, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Tracey Fragments uses its non-standard visual style, a split-screen approach that can show from one to sixteen frames at any one time, in a vain attempt to camouflage the paucity of the story. Director Bruce McDonald, working from a script by Maureen Medved, seems to believe that because he's doing something most filmmakers avoid, it qualifies The Tracey Fragments as being interesting and cutting edge. It is neither. This unexceptional and uninteresting story of a self-pitying borderline-personality teenager verges on being unwatchable as a result of McDonald's decision to bombard the audience with extraneous images in lieu of telling the story.

The Tracey Fragments presents its narrative piecemeal, not only splitting the screen, but opting for a non-linear chronology. By the time the end credits roll, the timeline has been sorted out as we determine that the scenes with Tracey (Ellen Page) on a bus wrapped in a shower curtain represent the "present." Everything else is a revelation of how she arrives at that point. It's a simple enough tale. Our heroine is an "average 15-year old girl who hates herself" and has run away from a dysfunctional home in an attempt to find her younger brother, Sonny (Zie Souwand), who has gone missing. Tracey feels responsible for Sonny, since she hypnotized him into believing he's a dog. In her quest to find Sonny, she runs into a guy named Lance from Toronto (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos), who offers her a place to stay. He probably has ulterior motives but we never find out. Other characters orbiting Tracey include Billy Zero (Slim Twig), the bad boy at school who may or may not have claimed her virginity, and her cross-dressing psychologist (Julian Richlings), who looks like he escaped from a Monty Python skit.

McDonald's decision to fill the screen with images, many of which merely show one scene from different angles, is usually more annoying than illuminating. One senses the approach is little more than a giant metaphor for Tracey's scrambled mental state. Five minutes in, most viewers will have understood that and had enough. If McDonald had something grander in mind, he fails to convey it. Two questions need to be asked when a director employs split-screens. Would the film be interesting without the technique? Does the approach add anything to the story? With The Tracey Fragments, it doesn't take much analysis to determine that the answer to both queries is "no."

In casting Ellen Page, McDonald at least did one thing right. When Page made this movie, universal acclaim hovered just beyond the horizon. She was largely an unknown and, had her fate rested with The Tracey Fragments, she would have remained so. Nevertheless, she shows an impressive ability to capture the attention of the camera and she does a worthy job fleshing out an underwritten character. Still, even a good performance by Page can't save the movie, especially since she is given no help from her awkward and unprofessional co-stars.

As one might expect from a story that is meant to be "arty" from a director who undoubtedly considers himself an auteur, The Tracey Fragments doesn't end; it stops. McDonald may be telling us something by reverting to more traditional filmmaking techniques during the final five minutes, with the split-screens thankfully abandoned. The movie transitions to its closing credits with a close-up of Tracey as she walks toward the camera. Maybe this is intended to mean that she has finally attained clarity of mind and purpose. Or maybe not. The problem is that I didn't care, and it's unlikely many others will either. Even at a slim 77 minutes, The Tracey Fragments feels fat and self-indulgent. It's strictly a film festival offering (and, when it premiered in Toronto in 2007, it was not well received), which makes it odd that ThinkFilm picked it up for even limited theatrical distribution. Poor word of mouth should effectively negate whatever cachet Ellen Page's name carries.

Tracey Fragments, The (Canada, 2007)

Run Time: 1:17
U.S. Release Date: 2008-05-09
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Violence)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1