“Juno Has a Nervous Breakdown” might be the best way to describe Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald’s “The Tracey Fragments,” a dysfunctional family drama featuring a tour de force turn by Juno herself, Ellen Page.
If you have an aversion to split screens, the experimental technique that enjoyed a brief vogue in the 1960s and is revived here with a passion, steer clear of this vertigo-inducing entry. Otherwise, paging Page fans everywhere.
When the story begins, Tracey Berkowitz (Page) is naked, wrapped in a curtain on a bus with bright-blue seats, addressing the camera - and she tells a sorry tale indeed.
An outcast at school because of her prepubescent lack of womanly attributes, 15-year-old Tracey is also unhappy at home, where her doltish, working-class father (Ari Cohen) grounds her unfairly and chain-smoking drudge mother (Erin McMurtry) seems to hate her. Adding to Tracey’s and our sense of dislocation, her shrink is played by a man (Julian Richings) in drag.
When Tracey’s younger brother Sonny (Zie Souwand) disappears without a trace while with his sister, all hell breaks loose in the Berkowitz home, and Tracey, whose job it was to care for and keep an eye on Sonny, runs away.
Did I mention that Tracey believes she “hypnotized” Sonny and convinced him to think he was a dog?
“The Tracey Fragments” is a modern-day “Candide”-like, picaresque tale in which Tracey encounters, among other things, a convenience store clerk with horns and a drug dealer in trouble with his supplier (the film’s one unfortunate stereotype).
Visually, the movie is fascinating and ambitious. The screen responds to Tracey’s words, creating “multiframe” images with screens of various sizes within the screen, swirling and fluttering like a stream of psychic, autumnal leaves.
McDonald, working with Canadian writer Maureen Medved adapting her own novel, uses the art of film to bring the thoughts in Tracey’s head to vivid Mondrian-like life.
A sequence featuring Patti Smith’s incantatory anthem “Land: Horses” is utterly spellbinding (speaking of which, Smith’s life is a movie waiting to be made). In other scenes, Tracey reads a graphic novel called “Ed the Happy Clown,” which seems to be a variation of her adventures.
Narratively, “The Tracey Fragments” is also like origami, folded and refolded upon itself. If it were “straightened out,” this 77-minute entry would be more like three hours.
“The Tracey Fragments” should be seen by anyone interested in the art of film and the art of bravura film acting. It is also a further reminder that Page is the real thing.
But we knew that already.