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Film Critics United Review - The Tracey Fragments
by Christopher Armstead, published on May 30, 2008 at 15:05:47
One should never generalize but Im going to go ahead and do it anyway, and what I am going to generalize are movies and the countries that they come from. For instance, generally speaking it seems the edgiest stuff seems to be coming out of South Korea, a mantle that used to belong to Hong Kong but heaven only knows whats going on with Chinese cinema about now. The Japanese are still putting out some of the strangest films around, but freaky ghost kids are quickly absorbing their film industry. Here in the mainland, generally speaking, we produce mostly predictable paint by numbers junk in an effort to satiate the most amount of people to get the most amount of dollars out their pockets, while in Canada, generally speaking, nothing could be further from the truth. Ive seen quite a few of these small, quiet, slow moving Canadian character dramas which often have me questioning who in the world goes to see these movies besides the filmmakers, their families, the actors that were in the movies and, well, film critics. Its not that these movies out of Canada are bad, generally speaking, as I found the vast majority do have something to offer, they are just so different. With none being quite as different as The Tracey Fragments which will certainly garner a little more play than your average slow moving Canadian character film due to the star presence of the very gifted and very Canadian Ellen Page whos popularity is growing exponentially.
Page plays the part of Tracey Berkowitz who is a fifteen year old high school student having a real tough go at it. She is mercilessly picked on at school, mainly because shes flat-chested, a situation I dont remember being near problem for the girls when I was in high school that its turning out to be for poor Tracey. But then it has been over twenty years so who knows. Traceys parents are problematic in that they dont seem to have much interest in the girl and her little brother, who she has trained to be a dog, is missing and it appears to be her fault.
So young Tracey is off into the streets to track down her nine year old brother, in a narrative that is fractured featuring Tracey in completely out of order points of her confusing life, where she meets all sorts of interesting people such as Lance from Toronto (Maxwell McCabe Locos) who is one strange dude who has an equally strange relationship with Tracey. We get introduced to Billy Zero (Slim Zero), a boy from school who Tracey claims is her lover which may or may not be true, a boy Tracey incessantly fantasizes about. Tracey rides a bus wearing a only a bed sheet for reasons which will become clear later on, and Tracey also talks to a psychiatrist named Dr. Heker (Julian Richards) who for whatever reason is a man playing a woman and he makes for one ugly woman. I certain it must mean something but Im not close to clever enough to figure out what the hell that may be. All these various elements culminate to a conclusion that only the avant-garde among us will understand and find satisfying.
Directed by Bruce McDonald, his film The Tracey Fragments holds you by the head so to keep it perfectly still and says to you I have a style. Can you see my style? Because I certainly have one. Some may call it pretension but we call it a style. As the movie begins with the different frames on the screen, images in boxes, sliding boxes, little boxes taking up an eighth of a corner of the screen I was hoping like hell the whole movie wasnt like this because I was fairly certain that I wouldnt be able to deal with it. Fortunately for my stomach the WHOLE movie wasnt shot in this avant-garde cutting edge style, but enough to be distracting. Plus I didnt really understand why McDonald had his film edited this particular way, other than the fact the little boxes on the screen of Tracey represented her various fragments. But damn, thats way too simplistic so Im sure it had to have more meaning that that.
The narrative is told in a fractured style with various pieces here and different pieces there and all amidst a myriad of sliding and fading boxes and bizarre imagery reeking of an art film for people way more sophisticated than me when all of the sudden all this mess started to begin to make sense to me. It helps the Ellen Page is very bright and convincing young actress who will probably be playing fifteen year-old girls well into her fifties, and that she delivers to us a character so tragic and so sad that is difficult not to feel at least a little something for her bratty ass. It helped that the fractured narrative didnt have any gaping missing pieces and once you get to stitching them together in your mind in only bolsters Traceys sad and unfortunate tale. And it also helped that I didnt get up to go the bathroom during the film so I didnt miss any of these pieces.
Ill readily admit that a lot of The Tracey Fragments went over my head, but I never gave up on it. For that steadfastedness (not a real word) I was rewarded with a unique tale that was uniquely Canadian, uniquely pretentious in its presentation, unnecessarily confusing and gave us something that wasnt so unique in yet another amazing performance by the amazing Ellen Page.