The Good: Interesting characters, Very well-acted, Well-shot/visually interesting
The Bad: Plot/resolution
The Basics: The Tracey Fragments may barely (by the running time) be a movie, but what is here is disturbing, well-assembled and cause for a lot of analysis!
I've been on an Ellen Page kick for a while now. In fact, since I saw Juno, I've been hunting down and/or rewatching Page's works and for my money moviegoers have a lot to be thrilled about between the physical beauty and acting prowess of Page, Anna Paquin and Anne Hathaway. It's a good time to get juicy roles as a young woman with substance in the movies, apparently. Page is easily the most problematic of the bunch in that she takes: 1. roles that are exceptionally difficult to watch, 2. roles where her character is a minor, and 3. roles where her character is the subject or manipulator of unspeakable acts. Hathaway may choose her roles based on her beliefs and based upon what she believes will be best for her career, but Page clearly takes the tough roles with meat that have established her as an actress willing to take some true challenges and risks on film.
The latest of those that I have managed to track down it The Tracey Fragments, a film that came close to being added to my list of "movies so good at what they do they don't need to be watched again." This is a twisted character study that is best analogized as a cross between Running With Scissors (reviewed here!) and Mulholland Drive (reviewed here!). And for those sucked in by the title to this review, what kind of sicko are you?! Ellen Page is playing a fifteen year-old girl! And all of the nudity comes in the context of violence upon her character, so this is not a film to sit down to with expectations of fun Ellen Page nudity time.
Tracey Berkowitz is a fifteen year-old girl who has suffered a psychotic break. As she rides the bus, wrapped only in a sheet, she tries to piece together the last few days, the days of anticipation of a blizzard in her area. In the immediate past, a new boy has come to school, which has caught Tracey's attention, she has lost her kid brother, begun seeing a shrink, run away from home and been taken in by a drug dealer who is welching to his distributor.
Or perhaps not. Tracey's life is filled with fantasies, especially pertaining to her and the boy who may or may not be named Billy Zero. She has been grounded by her father, probably for wearing an outfit intended to get Billy's attention. She appears to have hypnotized her younger brother, Sonny, into believing he is a dog. It appears he followed her when she skipped out on her house arrest by her father. She was tossing a ball to him at the Conservatory when he got lost. Her psychotherapist may or may not be a transvestite.
Yeah, the plot is a tough one to figure out. The story is not told in a linear fashion and as a result, there is some question as to the order of things. The main character break that doesn't jive actually comes chronologically early in the movie. Tracey runs away from home after Sonny is lost and as a result, she ends up with Lance (from Toronto). The fight Tracey puts up during the attempted rape by Lance's associate is strangely incongruent with how lost she otherwise is at that point (if events had been put in chronological order). Having been cast aside after being used by the guy she is hot for, having lost her brother and having run away from home, the amount of fight she suddenly displays is astonishing. This is not to say that there is ever truly a time where it "reads" as "right" for a character to let themself get raped, but taken out of order, her vehemence - this one thing she actually cares about when she has stopped caring about anything else, including living or dying (as evidenced by her willingness to freeze to death) - makes sense in the context of protecting her virginity for Billy Zero.
It is hard not to respect Bruce McDonald for his visual ambition and the dreadfully short running time of The Tracey Fragments actually works to McDonald's advantage. The movie is unencumbered by tangent subplots and there is no real filler. Instead, the movie is only the essentials and it is confusing enough as it stands. McDonald has created a masterpiece of style and substance where the visual style shows the story that Tracey is telling.
The Tracey Fragments is packed with visual images. At the average moment in the movie, there are four different windows showing different angles, different characters, and/or different perspectives. At times there are dozens of images, like the slamming of a door, going off in rapid succession all over the screen. It is a visually confusing concept, but it works rather powerfully for the story being told.
I cannot recall the last film that inspired me to read the book upon which it was based, but The Tracey Fragments just might break that trend. Maureen Medved wrote both the novel and the screenplay for this film, so one assumes the screenplay at least was the story she wanted the movie to tell. There is enough to intrigue a reader and moviegoer like myself if for no other reason than to try to piece together better what happened and in what order.
Actually, The Tracey Fragments is almost insulting in the way it fits so nicely together. It is very easy to write out a chronology of exactly what events happen and when in this movie (I cannot do it in the reviews, as it would ruin several aspects of seeing the movie firsthand). The problem, though, comes with the viewer determining not what happened when, but rather what is real and what is not. There are obvious fantasy sequences, dreams Tracey has of her and Billy Zero together.
But there is so much in the movie that is cause for questioning the reality of the story. Is Lance real? Most viewers will say "yes," simply because it is from the altercation at Lance's house that Tracey ends up in the sheet. But how did she get on the bus without money and wrapped only in a sheet? Did Tracey truly hypnotize Sonny to make him think he was a dog? If so, why is this integral event not shown? Certainly, it's not for time. Is the birthday party with the clown real? It's hard to say after we see Tracey reading a book about a happy clown earlier in the movie . . .
The point here is that this is a great film to watch and debate upon and there is enough latitude to do that, despite there being enough literal events repeated frequently enough to reasonably assemble the story in a cause/effect way. It's easy to see why Medved and McDonald did not, though; this film shows much better than it tells.
Ellen Page is the actress that holds the whole movie together and for a young woman who is quite a bit older than fifteen, she does a disturbingly good job at playing a fifteen year-old girl. Page has absolutely no sexual chemistry on screen with co-star Slim Twig (I couldn't go the whole review without mentioning her character's love interest's actor's name!), but that works perfectly for an infatuation of a girl that age. Page creates another disturbing character (see Hard Candy) that is a treat to watch just to see some real potential in a member of the younger generation. Her body language and especially the way she is able to carry on a girly monologue with herself work phenomenally to sell the character.
On DVD, The Tracey Fragments does not come with a commentary track, which is a bit of a disappointment. Instead, there is a behind the scenes interview with director Bruce McDonald and star Ellen Page, but the interview does not answer most of the questions viewers are likely to have. There is a recut - of sorts - of the movie which was part of an on-line contest and that has some mild intrigue to it. There is also a slideshow of on-set images, but largely this is just the feature film.
For other works with Ellen Page, please visit my reviews of:
An American Crime
X-Men III: The Last Stand
For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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