Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Tracey Fragments Not Worth a Clever Headline

The Tracey Fragments
Directed by Bruce McDonald
Running Time: 77 minutes
Originally Released: February 8, 2007 (Berlin International Film Festival)

zero (out of four)

If you’re going to read this movie review, I need you to take the following sentence very, very seriously. The Tracey Fragments is without a doubt one of the worst movies I have ever seen. Really. It’s that bad.

There are a few reasons I asked you to take the above pronouncement quite seriously. First, often when people say that a given movie is among the worst they’ve ever seen, they don’t really, really mean it. It’s just an easy way of saying that the movie was bad. That leaves it open for just how bad a film it really is, and that can vary greatly. Second, even when people sincerely assert that a movie is among the worst they’ve ever seen, it is all too easy for the listener to assume that the movie is better than it is, because you just don’t imagine movies being as bad as they can sometimes get. Third, in the case of The Tracey Fragments, the fact that a movie has won multiple awards from various independent film festivals may encourage you to take a disparaging review lightly. As such, I have no choice but to implore you to believe me—The Tracey Fragments is really, really, really bad.

Tracey Berkowitz (Ellen Page) is 15 years old and existentially lost. She’s ridiculed by her schoolmates, constantly at odds with her less-than-nurturing parents (Ari Cohen and Erin McMurty), and helplessly in love with a rock-star-esque new student, Billy Zero (Slim Twig). The only person who seems to extend Tracey any genuine affection is her nine-year-old brother, Sonny (Zie Souwand). Tracey has convinced Sonny that he’s a dog, and now he does little else but pant, bark, and chase tennis balls. At some point—the film is not told in a chronologically linear fashion—Sonny becomes lost. This puts additional strain on Tracey’s already-overburdened psyche, and she runs away from home in an attempt to locate Sonny. As might be expected for any runaway teenager, life away from home proves both emotionally and aesthetically destitute, not to mention hellishly educational. Tracey assures the audience she is fine—the film is largely a monologue that Tracey delivers straight into the camera—but we can see she’s anything but.

At this point, I feel I have already misled you by making the movie sound more coherent and structured than it is. In reality, The Tracey Fragments revels in its unorthodox presentation, much to the chagrin of the unfortunate spectator. Not only is the chronological order of the film put into a blender and spit out at random, but so are the visuals. Director Bruce McDonald thinks split-screen techniques are the greatest thing since sliced bread and overreacts accordingly. The Tracey Fragments is very rarely divided into less than two screens. More often, it is divided into five or six screens, and sometimes it is twice that or more. Each screen reveals a different part of the scene, though not often something important –Tracey’s transvestite guidance counselor’s shoes, for example, or a lonely donut sitting in a basket at the donut shop. Usually, two or three of the screens show the very same thing from a slightly different angle, and often the screens are just slightly out of synch with each other, creating an echo effect for the eyes and ears alike. It is clear what the filmmakers are trying to do here, which is to capture the fractured psychology of Tracey herself. What they get instead is a minimally clever but not wholly original idea run amok. Never has the phrase “style over substance” meant as much to me as it did as I watched this film. The Tracey Fragments is the very definition of self-indulgent, pseudo-intellectual, faux-artistic masturbation. It doesn’t deserve the talent that Page lends to it.

It does not surprise me that some people out there are applauding this film. Some people really go for this kind of crap. Some people treat anything even remotely avant-garde as necessarily brilliant. I imagine I could spell out the word “innocence” with children’s blocks, glue it to a piece of pink construction paper, then splatter it with blood, urine, feces, and semen, and I’d be considered the next great genius for some of these people. That’s the kind of creativity I see in The Tracey Fragments—nauseatingly pretentious, but just effortful enough for certain people to drop their jaws and start applauding. If you think something’s being unexpected precludes it from being obvious, The Tracey Fragments should disavow you of that opinion right quick. Of course, people who think this way aren’t likely to see what’s wrong with The Tracey Fragments. I’m not sure it’s worth the effort trying to pull their heads out of their butts long enough to convince them otherwise.


  1. Ugh! I hate when something is done so "intellectually" and/or "artistically." Like the rest of us are dumb for not getting it! I think it's rude and really lacks intelligence.