Prior to its screening, director Bruce McDonald, sporting a nifty cowboy hat, told the jam-packed house that half their ticket was a tab of acid. And, if they let it rest on their tongue now, then halfway through the film things should start making sense. Part of me wishes that were true, and part doesn't – McDonald's The Tracey Fragments (enjoying its World Premiere in Berlin, and chosen as the opening night film for the fest's Panorama section) is so warped and twisted, one definitely needs to be sober in order to accurately digest what's happening up on the screen. Based on the book by Maureen Medved, The Tracey Fragments travels inside the mind of Tracey Berkowitz (or, as she likes to call herself, "Tracey Zero-itz" or "40-Below Zero-itz"), played by the always-enjoyable Ellen Page, as she sets out on a misguided adventure to find her missing little brother ... who thinks he's a dog. Oh, and it gets weirder ...


Though Tracey would like to believe she's "just a normal 15-year-old girl," that's far from the truth. Holed up in a small house, her mother is a TV junkie/alcoholic/three-packs-a-day addict, who couldn't care less about her daughter, her husband or her life. Dad (Ari Cohen) isn't any better – he neglects his children, likes to bring out the belt on occasion and thinks he can cure Tracey's out-of-control behavior by sending her to a transsexual psychiatrist. The kids at school abuse her, constantly make fun of her small chest and refer to her, not by name, but by simply calling her, "It." Needless to say, Tracey isn't exactly a happy-go-lucky teenager, and when she (accidentally?) hypnotizes her brother to make him believe he's a dog, then loses him in the woods while venturing off to score a "quickie" with her dream lover, she runs away from home with one goal in mind: To find little bro and bring him back safely.

Inspired, in part, by the original The Thomas Crown Affair, McDonald (and his three editors!) present their story in fragments, literally. Not only is the timeline non-linear, but the visuals on screen are broken up into boxes – some short, some large, some long, some wide – which float about the screen from scene to scene in an attempt to pull the audience into the mind of a lost, troubled and confused teenager. She, like most kids, doesn't view the world with a clear state of mind. She sees everything in pieces – some imaginary, some not – and does her best to somehow fit it together, and get it together, before she loses something else ... like her life.

To follow along with the structure, Steve Cosens shoots the film as if it were a documentary. Shaky camera movements and sporadic zooming help to set a realistic tone that, honestly, probably won't sit well with most moviegoers (a quarter of the theater walked out during the screening). However, Ellen Page, who continually chooses challenging roles – not for The Oscar, but for the experience – delivers another stand-out performance as Tracey. You name it, she conquers: From the cursing, to the partial nudity, to the attempted rape, Page pumps every inch of her soul into the role. And boy, does she get it right ... not that I know anything about what goes on inside the mind of a 15-year-old girl, but I have a little sister, and I'm positive Page was pretty spot-on.

McDonald wanted to remind the audience prior to the screening that this was "just a story about a 15-year-old girl." But it's more than that – it's a powerful, emotional, risky piece of filmmaking that comes at a time when the portrayal of teenage angst on screen is in desperate need of a makeover. Now, if only more films took that chance ...

categories Reviews, Cinematical