Bruce McDonald’s ‘The Tracey Fragments’ (2007)

19May09

Director Bruce McDonald seems to think that his approach to this material is avant garde or some shit, but The Tracey Fragments looks like a bad film school project. Maureen Medved’s script, based on her book of the same name, details the experiences of 15-year-old Tracey Berkowitz, “just a normal girl who hates herself,” and whose sanity rapidly disintegrates after a traumatic incident. McDonald tries to duplicate that experience of psychological “fragmenting” by using split screens in practically every shot, which annoys more than anything else. The split screens manage to be visually interesting a couple times, but not frequently enough to justify their use throughout the entire film. Used sparingly, they might have worked better, but after five minutes the audience gets what McDonald is going for and the onslaught of largely banal visual information loses its emotional resonance. However, I admit that I do like how McDonald repeats bits of scenes from time to time.

Medved presents what little plot there is in a nonlinear fashion, a storytelling device that could effectively portray Tracey’s fractured mental state without the help of split screens. While bits of the film work, the overall narrative is rather flaccid and uninteresting. Medved leaves all the supporting characters underdeveloped, and much of what Tracey says to the camera is overwritten and overly dramatic.

I doubt that this film would have made it outside the film festival circuit if not for Ellen Page and her current marketability. Though Page filmed The Tracey Fragments before Juno, it was only released in theaters after the latter film became so successful. Her performance makes The Tracey Fragments bearable to watch, but even she falters at some of the more purple bits of dialogue. Most of the supporting actors failed to impress me. Though his performance is solid, I enjoyed seeing Maxwell McCabe-Lokos mostly because he inhabits such a different character from the one he plays in the other movie he made with Ellen Page, 2005’s Mouth to Mouth. I also liked Julian Richings as Tracey’s transgendered therapist.

I’m disappointed that this material doesn’t receive better treatment, because I think The Tracey Fragments could have made a powerful statement about the practically socially sanctioned degradation of young women’s sense of self through the sexualization and objectification of their bodies and pressure to conform to social standards of beauty, just for example. Many teen-aged girls endure most if not all of what Tracey experiences, so it’s amazing that more of them don’t end up wrapped in only a shower curtain, “on [a] bus, looking for someone.”

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