by Dominik Keppner / proof reader Michael Meyhoefer / published on June 27, 2007
I've seen the The Tracey Fragments first in February at the Berlinale 2007 and a couple days ago I had the chance to see it again during the Maple Movies 2007 in Frankfurt am Main. Here's my English review of this great movie:
Tracey Berkowitz, 15 years old, is just a normal girl who hates herself. She's searching for her little brother Sonny and is going into a lot of trouble. At the end she's riding a bus, only dressed up with a shower curtain, and tells us her story. The story is about her parents, who think their children are casualties. While her father is very strict and aggressive, her mother is a human wreck who smokes and watches TV all the day. We also meet the psychiatrist Dr. Heker, who tries to find out what's going on in Traceys head and why she thinks her brother believes to be a dog. And there's Lance who pretends to know Sonny and leads her astray. Last of the major sources for all her anger is school. Tracey has no friends there and is teased about her flat chest everyday. But this is going to change when a new class mate appears and she falls in love with him on first sight. In her fantasy he's Billy Zero, a cool boy who really loves her. Finally there's no clear line between truth and imagination of this teenage girl...
At the beginning of the movie all characters and places seems to make no sense as Tracey isn't telling the story chronologically but rather in non-linear parts and fragments. But in the end you'll find out what this all is about and why Tracey is now riding in a bus just wearing a shower curtain...
For your attention. The following section contains major spoilers. That means you get a detailed description of all things happening and with all parts of the story arranged in right sequence. Please read it on your own risk!
Basically Tracey Berkowitz is a normal girl in puberty who has the usual worries and problems of a teenager. Her parents are one of these problems. Her father can be very strict and agressive, her mother smokes three packages a day, watching TV all the time and without care about her children. Tracey's only bright spot is her brother Sonny and they spend a lot of time together. On her birthday, Sonny gives her a nice necklace which has a great meaning in the story. One day, Sonny starts to bark like a dog at dinner. While Mr. Berkowitz gets very angry about that, Tracey mentions, she might be responsible by hypnotizing him. That's the reason for Tracey beeing sent to the psychiatrist, Dr. Heker. But she refuses to trust this person and they come to no real solution.
In addition, Tracey also has a hard time beyond her parents' house. At the school she is teased about her small breasts and is just called It”. Eventually a new class mate helps to make Tracey's day and the girl falls in love with him on first sight. In fact this boy doesn't care about her, but Tracey doesn’t matter - she creates her own illusion around this cool guy, where she's a popular music and filmstar with Billy Zero (the new class mate) as her boyfriend.
One day Tracey spends time with Sonny playing ball in a wintry wood near a river bank. When Sonny starts to act like a dog, she treats him like one. After throwing the ball to her brother she spots her new class mate Billy at the other end of a bridge looking at her. They start some small talk and the boy convinces Tracey to come with him. After she gets in his car, the boy kisses her and they make love. In Tracey's fantasy world this is a great moment full of joy and tenderness. In the present it's only a short pleasure and the boy throws her out of the car immediately after the work is done. Tracey tries to understand what happened and notes that her brother has disappeared. With nothing but one of Sonny's mittens she goes home and brings the bad news. Her parents call the police - where nobody cares that much - and place Tracey under house arrest. While Sonny doesn't come home in the next two days, Tracey decides to search for her brother on her own. After a journey through the night on a bus she meets the dubious rent boy, Lance, who pretends to know Sonny and makes Tracey follow him. Their first stop is a shabby bar where Lance starts a fight with an other man. Tracey makes it to escape, but breaks down in a dark alley near the bar. She is picked up by Lance later, who brings her to his housing. After she wakes up there, Tracey wants to leave quickly, but due to a blizzard she has to stay with her new companion. A couple of days later a loan shark knocks at the door and Lance hides Tracey in a small niche. As Lance is in debt to this man, his visitor gets very angry and beats him down. Then he takes notice of the teenage girl in the other corner and pulls her into the middle of the room. He forces her to get undressed and tries to rape her. Only with a trick the girl manages it to escape with a shower curtain after she has hurt him seriously with a tin.
Now Tracey is alone again, riding in a bus with nothing dressed up but a shower curtain and is still looking for Sonny. And nothing will stop her until she has found him...
The story itself, based on a novel by Maureen Medved, is very simple. But due to the non-linear parts, it is going to be more complex. In addition, the innovative multi-framing technique and the leading actress are doing a great job and make the whole story more interesting and special. Ellen Page gives a great and outstanding performance and contributes to the sucess of this movie. The role is perfect for her and she shows many different faces of the character (defiant, sentimental, self-confident and so on), so it's a pleasure to watch her, as always. Most of the time it's an awesome One-Woman-Show leaving barely opportunities for the co-actors to keep pace. Only Julian Richings as Dr. Heker and Maxwell McCabe-Lokos as Lance, who can also be seen in Ellen's movie Mouth to Mouth, come to the fore too.
The score and soundtrack by the Canadian group Broken Social Scene suits to this kind of movie and emphasizes Tracey's emotions and the world inside her heart in a varied way. The band members are a couple of friends, who decided to make some music together and are very well known in the USA.
Furthermore, the multi-frames work pretty well and make this film unique. Mostly you will see the movie in a few different angels and zoom levels. In fact the number of fragments raises and falls with Traceys current emotions and mood. But you don't have to be afraid, because you always have the chance to take a look at each fragment and won't miss something all the time. Here's an example for a fragmented scene: Tracey is sitting in a box and makes some photos of herself. One fragment shows Tracey, the other shows every taken photo and on another you can see the finished photos in the output of the box.
The Canadian production also scores with its open end, which gives room for your own interpretation. In this way my review is also a interpretation of the movie as well. Maybe you’ll find a different approach to some scences and events.
With The Tracey Fragements Ellen has set a second big monument after the brilliant thriller Hard Candy. On the one hand she really lives out the role of Tracey Berkowitz and persuades with a great authenticity and screen presence. On the other hand she gives proof of her exceptional talent and underlines her sense for interesting independent productions in general. As mentioned the story itself is very simple, but if you are open-minded to the fantastic leading actress and the fragmented style you will enjoy every minute. For me it's a must seen kind of movie for every Ellen Page Fan and everyone who'd like to see a groundbreaking Canadian movie!