The Fits (2015) / Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated
Running Time: 72 min.
Cast: Royalty Hightower, Antonio A.B. Grant Jr., Alexis Neblett, Makyla Burnam, Lauren Gibson, Inayah Rodgers, Da'Sean Minor
Director: Anna Rose Holmer
Screenplay: Anna Rose Holmer
Review published August 31, 2016
Toni (Hightower, And Then I Go) is a tough but socially disconnected eleven-year-old girl from the projects in Cincinnati, who is a regular participant and a helpful assistant in the nearby community center, where her older brother, Jermaine (Minor), a boxer, also trains. Toni tries out to be a member of the Lionesses, the highly successful all-girl competitive dance-battle squad. The girls all regularly work out their highly complicated dance routines, but one of the girls falls during the routine in what appears to be an epileptic fit (hence the title). Some time later, another, then another. Are they overworked? Is it there a problem with water contamination at the community center? Is it something worse?
Written and directed by debut feature filmmaker Anna Rose Holmer (Twelve Ways to Sunday), there's a surreal, uneasy feeling to The Fits that makes it interesting, even if the mystery as to what it's all about is still left to the viewer's interpretation by the end. Is it about the difficulty of a girl becoming a woman? (The boys don't seem to be experiencing 'the fits') Is it, more specifically, the difficulty of being a black girl in a society that puts so much pressure on them that they begin to fall apart before they can find the strength and determination to try to rise out of their state? Or is it merely a metaphor for the biological and psychological changes that all girls go through at a time when they're at a certain age?
There is a surreal nature to The Fits. Toni has a habit of looking directly into the camera, into us, as if we're her mirror or on the other side of a window. Usually it's to spar, dance, or do a few reps of exercise. With the exception of the dance instructor at the community center, there are no adults with speaking parts in the film. Though Toni and her brother have a home that they go to and come from each day, we never see their home life, or of that of any of the other minors in the film. Meanwhile, Toni appears to be fascinated by the older girls, and her desire to become more like them. It's a good turn for the non-professional actress with the superstar-like name, Royalty Hightower, who joined as a member of the real-life Cincinnati-based dance troupe Q-Kidz, the YouTube sensation from which the Lionesses are made from.
The Fits is shot with a miniscule budget, with a very limited selection of shooting locales, but it's impressively photographed in trance-like fashion by Paul Yee (East of Main Street), with a memorably eerie, abstract score from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans (The Gift). Much praise goes to the look, sound, casting, and style, but the difficulties of a full enjoyment of the minimalist film comes from the length of the movie, which, even as one of the shorter length features you'll likely see in a theater, feels like it is very stretched out to meet the requirements of a limited release. Nevertheless, The Fits is certainly made by talented people, and certainly is a great calling card for Anna Rose Holmer to get bigger, better, and more realized projects in the future, at least as a director (the writing is too sketchy to comment on).
The Fits is going to be a tough sell for mainstream audiences, primarily because it features a disjointed, mood-driven narrative, very little dialogue, and that it raises quite a few questions that don't get answered in any obvious way before the end. It plays more off of mood than it does off of plot, challenging viewers to decipher the strange turns the films take such as the nature of the fits, the meaning of an empty pool, the discordant nature of the score and the dance moves, the reason why some girls are afraid of Toni at times (and at others, the converse), why the girls' "fits" seem to be distinctive, and tomboy Toni's fascination with a more feminine appearance, and of objects in flight. While this isn't the sort of movie I would recommend for many outside of those who regularly feast on art-house cinema, for those who are more adventurous about what they choose to watch, The Fits does make for an effective rhythmically hypnotic viewing experience unlike many you may have had before.
©2016 Vince Leo