The Fits is the narrative film debut of Anna Rose Holmer. The Fits was a darling of the film festival circuit last year, and I had actually heard about the film on NPR (natch) about a year ago. I was intrigued, but I definitely wasn’t prepared for what I saw. The Fits centers on Toni (Royalty Hightower, who is amazing) an 11-year-old tomboy who hangs out and works out with her older brother at a Cincinnati community center. Toni is an admirably tough little girl; she spars in the boxing ring and powers through sit-ups and pull-ups with determination.
One day she spots a crowd of girls at the center who make up a dance troupe called The Lionesses and is intrigued enough to try out for the squad. Through the group, she begins to embrace her femininity; piercing her ears and relishing the attention of boys she’s thus far just hung out with in the ring. But something strange is happening to the girls in the group: one by one they are overcome by strange seizures or “fits” as they are dubbed by the media.
I’m not going to lie – when The Fits ended I said aloud, “What the hell did I just watch?!” This is not to say that I wasn’t engaged in the film… I absolutely was. The “fits” are a mystery, and I’m assuming they are some kind of metaphor for something that I’m just not grasping. And their mystery certainly lends a strong feeling of unease in the film, particularly when our protagonist is involved because it’s the one and only time we see her smile throughout the entire film.
There is very little dialogue in The Fits, and it focuses solely on Toni’s relationship with the community center and her time spent there. The most we see of her home life is the outside of her apartment block, and the most we hear about it is when her brother warns her that their mom was going to be pissed that she had pierced her ears. I loved this about the film because it allows us to really hone in on Toni’s character, and she is completely entrancing.
The Fits is Hightower’s film debut and she is someone to watch for in the future. She plays Toni as tough and observant; you can see the wheels turning in her head as she gazes impassively at her surroundings and quietly takes everything in. So much of the film features shots of Toni gazing directly at the camera, which sounds banal or hackneyed but it really works in this film. (Take note, Zach Braff.)
Like I said, when The Fits ended I was left with a feeling of “Huh?” but sometimes that’s okay if the rest of the film is strong enough. Some of the dancing was kind of funny looking because the spazzy moves were hard to distinguish from the actual fits sometimes, but hey, different strokes and all that. I rated The Fits a 3 out of 5.