Split-screen techniques fail to hide a paucity of content and a piecemeal narrative in “The Tracey Fragments,” the latest offering from vet Canadian indie helmer Bruce McDonald. Pic is derived from a series of ’80s monologues about a disturbed teenage girl, which screenwriter Maureen Medved fashioned into a novel. Faux-MTV artiness may fool fest auds into thinking they are watching something cutting-edge. Wider audience will prove more elusive, as protag’s contemporaries are unlikely to be convinced by their parents’ idea of avant-garde.
Tracey Berkowitz (“Hard Candy’s” Ellen Page), in her own words, is an average teenage girl who hates herself. She’s tormented by girls and boys alike at school primarily for being flat-chested, while at home she has an angry, unsuccessful father (Ari Cohen) and a booze- and drug-addled mom (Erin McMurty).
Tracey’s voiceover informs auds that she hypnotized her tweener brother Sonny (Zie Souwand) into believing he is a dog. Most images of Sonny, however, are memories, as the boy has gone missing, and much of the film is taken up with Tracey’s haphazard search for him.
The narrative, which only intermittently travels in a straight line, is supposed to represent Tracey’s confused mind. She only has two sources of help: her glam-rock fantasies about the new boy at school, Billy Zero (Slim Twig), and her man-in-drag therapist Dr. Heker (Julian Richings), who is as clearly as much a part of the dysfunctional system around Tracey as her parents are.
Page is generally commanding as the self-pitying teenager, but there are several moments when, let down by the text, the young thesp obviously does not believe what she is saying. Supporting actors nail the caricatures McDonald was seeking, but effect does cast no favors.
Despite the substantial effort required for a helmer and his team (conceptual design is credited to co-editor Jeremiah Munce) to mount such a multifaceted narrative, pic is no more successful than most split-screen films, which rarely work to the sustained satisfaction of an audience.
In its application of split-screen, pic is more relentless than most of its antecedents, including Andy Warhol’s “Chelsea Girls” or Mike Figgis’s “Timecode.” More often than not, the procedure is just plain irritating. Only occasionally does the constellation of images congeal into something that is memorable.
HD and 35mm lensing is dominated by a blue-tinged grunge look. Despite the visual emphasis, film owes much of its energy to its persistent soundtrack, and comes most alive when using Patti Smith’s American punk classic “Horses.” Tech credits are strong.