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Even though it took place in the middle of the week, it was a fairly full house for the first AFI Dallas film fest screening of The Tracey Fragments. After all the buzz she’s gotten recently over Juno, there's little doubt why. This crowd was here to see Ellen Page. What they’d see instead, was Ellen Page hidden behind a gimmick.

The Tracey Fragments is a film with about 20 minutes of story which director Bruce McDonald has stretched into a full length future using a split-screen technique. Apparently he has a thing for The Brady Bunch opening because he’s not content simply to shoot his actress and tell a story, instead he carves up the movie screen into dozens of tiny quadrants and tells the story of Tracy Berkowitz, quite literally, in fragments.

Unfortunately they aren’t very good fragments. McDonald splits the screen up into all sorts of different quadrants, and then for the most part uses those quadrants to show the same scenes over and over again, but from different angles. If he used more than one camera to shoot a scene, rather than picking the best shot and using it, he shows us every shot, and they all play out all over the screen at once, sometimes at different speeds. Sometimes even that’s not enough for him, and after he finishes playing a particular scene in that fashion he’ll go back and do the whole thing all over again from a new group of different perspectives. Occasionally he’ll change pace and uses some sections of the screen to show random shots of horses or smoke, in an effort to convey Tracey’s mood.

As a gimmick, it’s an annoying one, designed for a generation of obsessive compulsives with an attention disorder. Used for three or four minutes to convey some specific mood or emotion maybe this could work, but playing back an entire film this way is absolutely ludicrous. The movie only really works in those extremely rare moments when he abandons his gimmick and trusts his lead actress, Ellen Page.

Page plays the titular Tracey, a 15-year-old girl in trouble. She’s a runaway and we’re told, in some way responsible for the recent disappearance of her little brother. From what I can see through the movie’s self-inflicted, fractured storytelling she’s giving a good performance, even with so little material to work with. The movie follows her character as she roves around town, sleeping in the streets, and standing half-clothed on buses frantically searching for her brother. By the end of the film we know where her brother is and we know what she’s doing on the street, but it’s a story that could have and should have been told in a short film free of McDonald’s gimmicks, not in a spastic full-length feature which, done this way, just isn’t very good.
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