Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

The Tracey Fragments

Written by Kittson Steinberger

Six months ago you probably had no clue who Ellen Page was. Sure, she played Kitty Pryde in X-Men: The Last Stand, but the role was so small, she was easy to miss. In 2005 she earned excellent reviews for her powerhouse performance in Hard Candy, but unless you lived in a major city like New York or Los Angeles, the thriller never made it to your local theater. For the most part, Ellen Page, who just turned 21, has a resume packed with films you have never seen. However, since Juno became a box office phenomenon, and Page was nominated for an Academy Award, the world can’t seem to get enough of this Alternative “It” Girl. Gritty, sarcastic, and entirely imperfect, she’s the anti-Miley, someone girls can actually identify with rather than just worship.

Six months ago you probably had no clue who Ellen Page was. Sure, she played Kitty Pryde in X-Men: The Last Stand, but the role was so small, she was easy to miss. In 2005 she earned excellent reviews for her powerhouse performance in Hard Candy, but unless you lived in a major city like New York or Los Angeles, the thriller never made it to your local theater. For the most part, Ellen Page, who just turned 21, has a resume packed with films you have never seen. However, since Juno became a box office phenomenon, and Page was nominated for an Academy Award, the world can’t seem to get enough of this Alternative “It” Girl. Gritty, sarcastic, and entirely imperfect, she’s the anti-Miley, someone girls can actually identify with rather than just worship.

One of the unfortunate results of this need for everything Ellen is the theatrical release of The Tracey Fragments. Filmed more than two years ago, this highly flawed indie is little more than a suckerfish feeding off of Juno’s success. Tracey Berkowitz (Page) is the worst-case-scenario teen heroine. While she agonizes over the same issues that most fifteen-year-old girls agonize over (sex, popularity, body image, the scary precipice between dependence and independence, etc.), she’s the most unpopular, has the most screwed up parents, and is the most mentally unstable kid in school. Her story is so dismal, it comes across as self-indulgent—a high-concept pity party.

Based on the novel by Maureen Medved (who also wrote the screenplay), The Tracey Fragments begins and ends in basically the same place—a city bus somewhere in Ontario on which Tracey rides wearing only a dirty shower curtain. The next seventy-seven minutes are spent circuitously explaining how she wound up in this predicament. We don’t simply flash back; we hop backwards and forwards without warning, jerking in and out of the present and between various pasts until we have no sense of then and now. Through this temporal jig, we manage to learn that Tracey’s little brother, Sonny (Zie Souwand), has gone missing. Somehow responsible for his disappearance, Tracey has run away from her fantastically dysfunctional parents (Ari Cohen and Erin McMurtry) to search for him, despite the threat of an oncoming blizzard. This much we believe, but Tracey isn’t a trustworthy storyteller. She also tells dubious tales of, among other things, a gorgeous boyfriend named Billy Zero (Slim Twig), who loves her madly.

Ultimately what makes The Tracey Fragments virtually unwatchable is, what the press kit describes as, director Bruce McDonald’s “dazzling non-linear” split-frame editing technique. The entire film is cut like a Hype Williams video on overdrive. At any given moment, two, three, four, or more frames simultaneously display different shots—variant points of view or details of the same scene (get it? fragments of Tracey?)—making it nearly impossible to focus your eyes, which eventually glaze over. You’re shown more, but you see less. The dizzying visual effect, combined with the time warping narrative, sends you out of the theater feeling like you’ve dreamt rather than watched this highly depressing movie.

You may love Ellen Page; she is, after all, a terrific actress. However, if the character you really love is Juno MacGuff, be warned. While Juno made you smile despite yourself, and made you feel like she could conquer anything, Tracey is utterly hopeless and makes you want to eat an entire box of double-stuffs.

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