Reviews

Bruce McDonald

Canada, 2007

Credits

Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 20 May 2008

Source 35mm print

Categories The 2008 Independent Film Festival of Boston

You may have heard about the main stylistic conceit of director Bruce McDonald’s insistently experimental Canadian indie The Tracey Fragments, which has scored an unexpected level of buzz owing to the post-Juno celebrity of its star, Ellen Page. It’s a film fractured, with little rectangles of story blinking on and off all over the screen for the entire feature; the (ahem) fragmented visual style and narrative are meant to mirror the titular character’s mental state.

One hopes for the best when a director makes unusual choices, but such heavy-duty artifice can’t help but threaten to overwhelm a film’s story and characters. And there’s a possibility still worse than that: all that surface flash could come to feel like an elaborate cover-up, aiming to mask the fact that there is hardly a story or characters to speak of. It was with great disappointment that I came to realize that The Tracey Fragments falls pretty squarely into the latter category.

Page stars as the troubled Tracey Berkowitz, who is beset on all sides by unpleasant people, including a shrill family, the cruelest classmates since Welcome to the Dollhouse, and a glam rock crush who is inevitably less than he’s cracked up to be. Tracey undergoes a lot of abuse, and I was reminded of a quote regarding Isabella Rossellini from Roger Ebert’s notoriously damning review of Blue Velvet: “She is degraded, slapped around, humiliated and undressed in front of the camera. And when you ask an actress to endure those experiences, you should keep your side of the bargain by putting her in an important film.” Now, I do consider Blue Velvet an important film. But The Tracey Fragments adds up to less than its scattered parts, and Page’s intensity and courage are wasted here.

The rest of the cast doesn’t fair any better: they’re cranked to eleven right from the start and are left with nowhere to take their performances. The over-the-top characterizations may be an attempt to reflect Tracey’s warped perceptions of her world, but they don’t make for compelling viewing. The performances grow as tiresome as the flashy visuals do, and the picture feels long even at a scant seventy-eight minutes. McDonald does have daring and some clever ideas, but he lacks a decent script. The Tracey Fragments crumbles for lack of a foundation, and it isn’t worth picking up the pieces.

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