The Tracey Fragments

2007, Movie, NR, 77 mins


Cult Canadian director Bruce McDonald's adaptation of Maureen Medved's novel is a bold formalist experiment: After shooting the screenplay -- adapted by Medved herself -- McDonald and editors Jermiah and Gareth C. Scales slice, dice, split and otherwise fragmented the screen into tiny shards and frames within frames in an effort to capture the disintegrating psyche of its heroine: An emotionally distraught Winnipeg high-school student. The experiment works surprisingly well, thanks in large part to its star, Ellen Page.

In a sense, the entire film takes place inside the mind of Tracey Berkowitz (Page), a picked-on, put-upon 15-year-old who, wrapped in a bed sheet a la Norman Bates, narrates her story from one of the Winnipeg buses she aimlessly rides when she can't think of anything better to do. This time, however, Tracey has boarded the bus with a serious purpose in mind: Her beloved, mentally challenged 9-year-old brother, Sonny (Zie Souwand), is missing, and Tracey knows she's largely responsible. As a deadly blizzard gathers force, Tracey frantically searches the city, and through bits and pieces of flashbacks -- some of which share screen-space with the contemporaneous action as well as figments of Tracey's increasingly fevered imagination -- we see Tracey's life, which wasn't terribly rosy even before Sonny disappeared. Her father (Ari Cohen) is an angry, depressive failure whose only apparent power over Tracey is to send her to a psychiatrist (Julian Richings, in drag) while grounding her for months at a time. Her mother (Erin McMurtry) is an indifferent, chain-smoking TV addict who divides her contempt equally between husband and daughter; and Tracey's life at school is a friendless hell on earth. She's ridiculed by both boys and girls for being flat-chested, and the abuse isn't entirely restricted to mere words. The only light in Tracey's life is the pallid glow cast by the new kid in school: a black-clad hipster by the name of Johnny Zero (Slim Twig). But as the fragments of Tracey's story coalesce, we see that her infatuation with Johnny Zero isn't without its own dire consequences.

Even though the screen is often divided into a Mondrian-like grid, each individual box containing its own discreet moving image, McDonald's film is surprisingly fluid and easy to follow: The complex arrangement of frames-within-frames actually allows for more meaning at a given moment, allowing McDonald to operate on a symbolic and literal level at the same time. But Page's potent performance is the narrative glue: Once again playing an edgy, articulate teenager, it may seem as if Page is fast becoming typecast. But Tracey Berkowitz is the anti-Juno: Where Cody Diablo's heroine is insouciant and confidently nonchalant, Tracey is angry, insecure and filled with an unsettling self-loathing, which Page brings to life with a searing immediacy. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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