Review: The Fits
What does it mean to fit in? What is that privilege worth to you? Once you fit in, how long does that last? These are the questions that abound against a backdrop of urban athletics and femininity. From beginning to end, Anna Rose Holmer's hypnotic directorial effort presents timeless questions in a setting that feels wholly new. Our protagonists are Black pre-teen girls. Our perspective is theirs. And for a mesmerizing 72 minutes, our world is their world. Told through a lens of competition and desire, this experience is singular--you will not see anything else quite like The Fits for a very long time.
The Fits follows Toni (played by Royalty Hightower), an 11-year old tomboy who spends her days training for boxing in the gym her brother works for. While there, she starts watching a group of teenage girls train for dance competitions and is immediately drawn to that world. Seeing how the boys look at them and the kind of community they have, she wants to be a part of that. She immediately starts to learn the routines and tries to ingratiate herself in that culture by becoming a part of a junior team that trains with the older girls.
Everything is going well for Toni in this new world until one of the older girls has a seizure-like spell. And when another girl suffers a similar incident, things start to get even more serious. As more and more girls start suffering similar incidents, it becomes difficult to know what is real and what isn't, and that is when the film really starts to soar.
The film is visually arresting while stopping short of any showy effects. Shot for what I am sure was a modest budget, the film relies on glitter in motion and beautifully lit dark skin to give the film it's visual edge; and it works. These visuals help the film move from the visceral to the surreal, and from dreamlike to stark reality. The film moves between these dimensions with such ease that it can only be a credit to Holmer's able direction.
There are many reasons to recommend this as a viewing experience, but the way in which it handles black femininity may be chief among them. With Toni transitioning from boxing to dancing, she starts to reimagine her own femininity. She pierces her own ears and starts wearing nail polish, which were things that were once foreign to her in the world of 12-ounce gloves and body blows. At the same time, the world starts to reimagine her, with other dancers asking where she came from and commenting on her lack of 'curves.' That lack of curves comment was juxtaposed with a boxer commenting that he needed to lose 5 lbs., which showed just how much her world had changed just by moving from one room in the gym to another.
At bottom, this is a film about gender norms and self-discovery. That ability to channel the intricacies of being a Black woman coming of age is noteworthy. It is a rare thing to see depicted on screen at all, so when it is done in such artful and subtle ways, it deserves praise. That it comes wrapped in an Aronofskyian character study makes the treat even richer.
Though truly an exceptional effort, the film is not perfect. Some of the performances left something to be desired, but other than that, it is hard not to walk away impressed. It is difficult to truly explain what makes this film so great--in part due to the fact that what it is not telling you is part of the magic. The hard charging dance moves give the film a feverish feel, but what lies beneath is genuine human complexity.
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