by Noel Murray, published on July 9th, 2008|
Bruce McDonald's adaptation of Maureen Medved's stream-of-consciousness teen novel The Tracey Fragments turns the screen into an ever-shifting mosaic, with anywhere from two to 20 separate images appearing at the same time. Some show different angles on the same action, and some show what's going through the mind of the title character, played by a pre-Juno Ellen Page. Dubbed "the titless wonder" by her peers, Page is a miserable high-school student with a grumpy father and a distant mother. When her younger brother disappears on her watch, Page begins a cold journey through the Toronto night, winding up naked, wrapped in a shower curtain, and riding the city bus. As Page reflects on how she ended up this way, McDonald uses her anxiety as the foundation for an audacious formal experiment, intended to depict the inherent schizophrenia of the adolescent mind.
McDonald isn't the first to play with multi-screens, but he achieves some effects here that elevate The Tracey Fragments above the usual indie mope-fest. Without the visual play, Medved's story of "a normal girl who hates herself" wouldn't be all that exceptional, and even with the screens-within-screens, The Tracey Fragments is bogged down by a needlessly punishing plot, an overly familiar lead character, and a Page performance that sticks with the same unimposing-but-sassy persona she's been working since Hard Candy. Yet while McDonald's collage approach is hit-and-miss, there are moments in The Tracey Fragments as exhilarating as any in recent indie cinema. Some are funny, as when McDonald designs fake opening credits for the romantic comedy Page wishes she was living. Some are heartbreaking, as when Page looks at the cover of a celebrity gossip magazine and imagines a frenzied life for herself as half a rock 'n' roll power couple. And some are borderline revelatory, as when McDonald shows Page running through her dingy suburban backyard while horses gallop in the frames beside her and the soundtrack blares a cover of Patti Smith's song "Land," which is yet another riveting, erratic piece of pop art about how it feels to be young, horny, and sad.
Key features: A seven-minute promotional featurette and unenlightening samples of fan "remixes" of the raw Tracey footage.
A.V. Club Rating: B-