Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Tracey Fragments (**1/2)

Directed by Bruce McDonald


Tracey is a trouble-maker. She hypnotized her little brother, Sonny, into thinking he was a dog. Tracey is an outcast. She is alienated by all her peers, and ridiculed relentlessly by boys and girls alike as the "Titless Wonder". Tracey is a romantic. When she sees a new boy named Billy Zero in her school she fantasizes about all the wonderful times they would share if they were sexually intimate. Tracey is fragmented, as the director Bruce McDonald, is frequently reminding us throughout the film.

While watching this exciting independent film, a lot of things told me that it didn't work, but there's something to wonder about a project brimming with ambition. IMDb lists this movie as the "First feature film to use Mondrian multi-frame compositions for the entire length", and part of me hopes it's the last, because it requires the audience to sit through constant split screens that are more annoying than the unbelievably "unsteady" use of Steadicam in Cloverfield.

And after all that, I still can't get The Tracy Fragments out of my head. The story is about a 15-year-old girl named Tracey (Ellen Page). Really, that is the most definitive plot summary I can give you, but I can give you more details. After losing her younger brother, Sonny, she runs away from home to try and find him. Also, Tracey is considered a total freak in her high school, and the only salvation she gets from attending is daydreaming about the new kid in school named Billy Zero (Slim Twig) who is equally "freakish". Also, Tracey's parents are irrational, and self-destructive, and are seemingly trying to make Tracey go insane (it can be agreed that Sonny is already insane, being he thinks he's a dog and all).

There are other sub-plots, including Tracey's relationship with an androgynous therapist (Julian Richings), and Tracey's other relationship with a man named Lance (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos), who may or may not be a drug dealer. Lance takes her in for a little while after she's run away. I think you see where I'm going here. The story lines are so convoluted, you really don't know which is being followed at any particular time, nor can you even decipher the difference between them until the end. When I felt that I'd finally understood what was actually going on in this film, I came to the conclusion: to the point that I do understand, I don't really care.

I'd be remiss to say that I watched this film for any other reason than my newfound admiration for the young actress Ellen Page. I feel safe saying that it is her unbelievably nuanced performance as Tracey that makes this film, at times, enchanting. Just like in her films Juno and Hard Candy, Page's ability to deliver such powerfully intimate dialogue while still staying true to her character is uncanny. It's important to say that the characters she plays in each of the three films are completely different, yet her performances come off so natural, to the point where she has become hypnotizing. It's no wonder Page has sometimes been confused as "playing herself".

There are moments in The Tracey Fragments when the idea of teenage alienation is shown quite honestly. I wished McDonald had toned down his use of the split screen, and I also prayed the looping of the same lines of dialogue over and over again would end. They never did. There were times when I felt comfortable with it, and others where it just flat-out got in the way. But part of me was intrigued by this style, and maybe in better hands, this type of filmmaking can inspire some true innovation. The uneasiness I felt with this film is the right kind. The kind where you know that the filmmakers involved truly stretched their imaginations as far as they could.

The Tracey Fragments is an indie from Canada, made with what seems like little to no budget, and may or may not be released in the US around May. It can be found on the internet in numerous places, but I'm sure it's chaotic style is more appropriate for the big screen. I can't go quite as far as to call the film a success because it's flaws are large and glaring, but it should be said that it delivers an iconic performance from one of the best young talents in the business. That alone, is something to watch. It's interesting to watch actors and directors take a chance. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, but it is always more enjoyable than box office fodder.

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