published on May 26, 2008|
Every so often a movie comes around that is almost universally panned by the critics. Most of the time they are correct and the film really stinks. Then there are the rare cases where there is a little gem hidden in a movie that few enjoy. This is frequently the case when the film makers, cast and crew, try to experiment with the medium. Without such experimentation any art form, such as cinema, will stagnate. In science there are more failed experiments than success. Medical researcher Dr. Paul Ehrlich had 605 failures while searching for the cure for syphilis. Thankfully he didnt let bad reviews of his research stop him and he continued on to create compound 606 and it cured the disease. While not as important for the health and well being of mankind a similar situation is at work with the experimental film, The Tracey Fragments. The visual style here rapidly becomes annoying but at least the director, Bruce McDonald, is trying to be different. This particular experiment may not work all that well but the main point is he tried.
d to do something different. If you are in the majority that dislikes this film you should at least give the cast and crew their well deserved credit for trying. So many independent film makers now are taking the safe route by making yet another horror flick that when one of them breaks ranks and strikes out in a direction of their own choosing you should acknowledge them for taking the professional risk.
The screenplay was written by Maureen Medved and based on her popular novel by the same name. This little fact demonstrates an important point. The original author thought enough of the way her novel was to be presented that she signed on to do the script. Usually the only way this happens is either the producers could offer a tom of money or the author believes in the way her work will be treated. Considering this film was made on a small budget and principle photography took just two weeks to accomplish, Ms Medved must have approved of this treatment of her novel. The experiment here is to use the Mondrian style throughout the entire film. If you are not up on your art history Piet Mondrian was a Dutch painter who worked around the 1920s. His paintings consisted of black lines dividing the canvas with bright colors in some of the resulting rectangles. McDonald translates this to the screen by dividing it into a constantly changing number of squares and rectangles each showing a different scene or view of a single scene. It is distracting and confusing to watch. It is also impossible to separate this visual style from the main character. Tracey Berkowitz, amazingly played by Ellen Page, is a fifteen year old girl. The screen divisions are supposed to represent the titular fragments of her mind. My daughter was once this age and I supposed that this is as fair a representation of a teen girls mind as possible. If a teenaged boy was the subject only two screens would be needed; one showing sex and the other alternating between sports, video games and food. Since Tracey is undergoing an incredible amount of stress there is no strict linear narrative that can represent what she is feeling and thinking. Thoughts and perspectives are in constant flux with no foundation or even a common thread. Tracey is not a popular girl in high school. Her home life is a textbook case of dysfunction. At school she is teased and ridiculed. The film is formatted and presented as a visual representation of the myriad of conflicting thoughts and emotions swirling around in her head. The closest thing to this style was with another experimental Indy film, Timecode the 2000 movie by Mike Figgis where the screen was split into four views of the same moment. Split screens are nothing new but to use it for the entire film is a bold, novel ploy.
Another aspect of the presentation that makes it difficult to follow is the way the chronology leaps around. Again this is nothing new, director Quentin Tarentino did it in several of his films, The difference here is the technique has a natural reason for doing this. The thought process of this girl jumps around in her mind. She is under so much stress that it is nearly impossible for her to think in a straight line. Her mind is constantly bombarding her with images of her fears, hatreds and fantasies. As Tracey states in the film My name is Tracey Berkowitz. Fifteen. Just a normal girl who hates herself. There is little reason for this girl to have any other self image. Every one around is always telling her that she is worthless. Her father (Ari Cohen) is an alcoholic full of bitter resentment for everyone. Her mother (Erin McMurtry), chain smokes as she harbors a sullen personality. Her nine year old brother, Sonny (Zie Souwand), has been hypnotized into thinking he is a dog and has run away. Tracey, feeling responsible has set out into the old wintry night to find him and bring him home. At school the other girls taunt Tracey at every opportunity. They deride her for having a boyish figure and we all know how important body image is to a girl this age. She does have a crush on a new, cool boy in school, Billy Zero (Slim Twig). She fantasizes about him in a rock video fashion. Her parents are certain that she is as mentally unstable as her grandmother. Tracey sees a psychiatrist, Dr. Hecker (Julian Richings), who plays the role in drag. The first sight of Tracey is naked, wrapped in a shower curtain in the back of a dirty city bus. As she ultimately explains she likes riding the bus at night, surrounded by other lonely, depressed people. Many of her thoughts concern death. She muses to herself that girl could get murdered, dumped in the country, liquefy, feed flowers that the bees then make into honey purchased and consumed by the family of the dead girl. This are the thoughts of a very disturbed girl but that is the life that Tracey lives each day.
No matter what else can and will be said about this film the performance by Ellen Page is wonderful to behold. She has range; no one can deny that fact. She was the super hero Kitty Pride in the third X-Man flick. Her role in Juno garnered an Oscar nomination and both critical and popular praise. For a young woman of just twenty one years she has what is certain to be a stellar career ahead. Here she embodies this girl. Page allows the audience to understand and emotionally bond with a character who cant even like herself. This is an amazingly difficult feat to have the viewers responding positively about someone with so little to like. She has a command of her craft that would be something for an actor many times her age. Page is a natural and can get the audience to care which carries the story and the film. In Juno she showed exuberance and love of life no matter what happens. Here Page plays her role in the total opposite direction. Tracey is so mixed up that she has been numbed by life. When she has sex in the back of a car and is tossed out before she can even get dressed it flows off her; just another humiliation in life, one of many.
Image Entertainment releases this film to DVD. They are known for one of the most eclectic catalogs in the business because they are willing to take chances with their releases. This is not for everyone but if you can handle something well off the beaten track give it a try.