Collectively, I think we here at Pajiba have an incredibly high tolerance for independent cinema; I’m generally willing to give anything with a budget under $5 million and an indie darling or two amongst the cast a first-blush benefit of the doubt. And God knows we don’t review independent films for the page views — financially speaking, they are money-losers even on an indie-friendly site like ours. We do it out of respect for filmmakers who can scrape together a small budget, stretch it beyond its limits, and create something of substance. Good review or awful, we reckon the small amount of exposure we can provide helps, ever so slightly, to encourage writers and directors to take risks and do something outside of the studio-driven formulas, knowing that at least a few critics beyond industry periodicals like The Village Voice and The New York Times are paying attention.
But, fucking hell, y’all. There’s only so much indieness a guy can stomach. I’m all for experimental cinema, to a point; I thought the split-screen device used in last year’s Aaron Eckhart film, Conversations with Other Women was compelling and effective, for instance, but Bruce MacDonald’s multi-frame jimcrackery in The Tracey Fragments is too much to handle. A kaleidoscopic collage of images thrown onto the screen and swirled around like local public-access special effects, it’s an endlessly obnoxious and eyeball smacking device, it’s only purpose seemingly to distract your attention away from the nearly nonexistent story, the puerile dialogue, and the atrocious script.
While I have a tendency to satirize certain films by employing their conceits in my reviews (see, e.g., 88 Minutes), to do so here would basically require typing the same sentence frontwards, backwards, upside down, diagonally, and inside-out on different parts of the page, praying that you won’t notice what a stupid, worthless sentence it is. Take, for instance, this line uttered by Tracey in the film:
See what I mean? While many complained that Diablo Cody’s dialogue in Juno wasn’t real to a 16-year-old’s life, The Tracey Fragments exemplifies exactly why we don’t want to watch a movie where the dialogue actually does smack of authenticity when that movie is about a damaged, self-involved teenager — the whole thing is a like a bad poetry slam delivered by Miley Cyrus during an angry Goth phase: “He stuck his cock in me and said ‘I love you’ in that exact order. Now I’m not afraid to die.” What the fuckstick? The Tracey Fragments isn’t just full of horribly pretentious gimmickry, it’s written by somebody’s petulant little sister, the one who mixes John Mayer lyrics with a string of profanities to achieve the perfect mix of faux profundity.
The people, if any, who will ultimately be drawn to The Tracey Fragments are likely devotees to Ellen Page, those — like myself — who have been sucked in by her spot-on performances in both Juno and Hard Candy. The best I can say for Page here, however, is that it’s not her fault that The Tracey Fragments is so goddamn insufferable — she does the best she can with the lines she’s given, like this one, uttered to her cross-dressing shrink: “What do you know about anger, you cunt? You fucking stupid robot cunt … You’re a liar, you are a liar, why would I want to see a psychiatrist who is a big fat liar?”
As for the plot, the best I can surmise from the hints given to us by Mauren Medved’s screenplay is that Tracey, a loserish punk-rock teen known at school as “The Girl with No Tits” or simply “It,” is completely alienated from everyone but for her sorta boyfriend Billy Zero (Slim Twig). Her family is dysfunctional — her Mom smokes three packs a day and has to be surgically removed from in front of the TV and her Dad is verbally abusive, sending Tracey to therapy as a way to relieve himself of responsibility. At some point (it’s hard to tell when, as the story is told non-linearly), Tracey’s nine-year-old mentally-challenged brother runs away, and Tracey feels like it’s her fault because she hypnotized him to bark like a dog, which prompted an angry outburst from their father. Tracey goes out to find him. The film then follows her aimless journey on buses or to the backseat of her boyfriend’s car, where she fucks him and shares a split screen with … a horse.
Yeah. A horse. That’s some deep shit.
There are a few moments near the end — when veteran Canadian director Bruce MacDonald decides to focus on a single-shot — that Ellen Page’s daring performance does manage to burn through the bullshit, but it doesn’t make up for an otherwise dreary movie-going experience, diluted by Macdonald’s own self-indulgence. And the director, who has helmed many an episode of “Degrassi: The Next Generation” even brings along the cheap production values from the show. But I will give MacDonald props for this: It must have taken more patience and determination to edit five minutes of this film together than it takes to produce an entire romantic comedy. Unfortunately, the result in either case isn’t worth watching. Indeed, The Tracey Fragments is something you walk into at MoMA and stare at for 45 seconds and say, “Hmph. That’s … neat, I guess,” before erasing it from your memory. But it’s certainly nothing you want to watch for a full 77 minutes, which stretches out like a Kansas interstate.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.
The Tracey Fragments / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 16, 2008 | Comments ()