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20/20 Filmsight - Film Criticism by David O'Connell

Film Criticism by David O'Connell

The Tracey Fragments

June 3rd 2008 22:33
Ellen Page in The Tracey Fragments sitting with her psychiatrist
Last year, famed Canadian director Bruce McDonald released "The Tracey Fragments", a movie about adolescent malaise starring Ellen Page, the Juno-darling.

Page plays Tracey Berkowitz, a distressed teenage girl, known in her school as 'the girl with no tits', distrusted by her parents, looked down upon by her psychiatrist and, like many adolescents, trying to find their way in the world, recklessly unstable.

McDonald recreates the splintered memory of painful teenage years by fashioning the movie with slick editing. Every scene in the movie is broken into 'fragments', small, divided screens that show repeated clips, or ancilliary footage. A.O. Scott wrote, in the New York Times,

"When split-screen techniques are used in films like the original version of "The Thomas Crown Affair", "Timecode" and "Conversations With Other Women", it is usually so that the audience can see the same action, simultaneously, from different angles. Mr. McDonald does some of this, but more often he shatters and scatters images to amplify their expressive power, and to induce a state of sensory and cognitive overload analogous to Tracey's troubled consciousness."

It's a bit of a gimmick, and my first instinct was to turn the movie off, as I'm not one to be drawn in by editing and indie-quirk. The film looked like it was aiming to sit on the pedestal with "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Donny Darko", with enough odd, jumbled narration to give it status. "The Tracey Fragments" proved to be hard to turn away from, though... the beginning is dischordant and scattered, like the quickly fading strands of a bad dream.

Slowly, we're drawn into the story, piecing together the fragments like a detective in some old movie. Tracey is a loner, not by choice, but because she's an outcast and doesn't fit the mold. Her little brother goes missing one day, and she roams the Winnipeg night, riding buses.

She fantasizes about an imaginary relationship with the new boy in class, Billy Zero, who she imagines to be a wildly popular indie rocker, who protects her from the bullying of the full-breasted harridans that plague her.

"The Tracey Fragments" is based on a novel by Maureen Medved, but McDonald puts his stamp on the film, encasing it in fierce Canadian indie music, soundtracked by Broken Social Scene. Certain sequences in Tracey's imagination go beyond the film, capturing the sense of reborn Sex Pistols mania.

It's a bleak film, shot in the Manitoba winter, but there's enough dark humour, Canadian-style black Canadian humour to keep the movie fresh and alive. "The Tracey Fragments" is a mesmerizing, schizophrenic memory of what it felt like to be young and alone, with only music to offer you solace, and dreams of riding off into the night on the back of Billy Zero's motorcycle to keep you warm.

"The Tracey Fragments" is available in Australia from Siren Visual.

I say: An excellent modern feature from Bruce McDonald, whose punk rock touch is evident on this movie.

See it for: Page tries to play the scorned loser, but she's still too cute to pull it off. In one scene, she dresses up for school and almost looks stunning.

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4 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by Tracy

June 3rd 2008 23:35
I definitely want to see this, Cib.

Great review.

Comment by Cibbuano

June 4th 2008 02:31
You should be able to rent it this month... or you can buy the DVD!

Comment by Bryn

June 4th 2008 07:54
"black Canadian humour" ... lol ... and what pray tell is that exactly?

Comment by Cibbuano

June 4th 2008 12:30
Bryn, some of my favourite Canadian movies are black comedies.

Ah, I see. 'Black Canadian' and 'humour'.


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