Movie Review: “The Fits”
Director Anna Rose Holmer steps boldly into the indie movie scene with her film debut “The Fits”, a captivating portrayal of a young girl’s struggle with isolation and need for belonging. Toni (Royalty Hightower) spends every day at the Lincoln Community Center in Cincinnati, training as a boxer with her older brother Donté (Antonio A.B. Grant Jr.). After Toni tries out for the Lionesses, a dance team that practices at the center, she turns her back on boxing. Conflictarises as members of the dance team fall victim to mysterious fainting spells, and Toni is faced with a choice between her two worlds.
10-year-old Royalty Hightower effortlessly pulls off her first feature film performance, conveying Toni’s thoughts and emotions with stunning expressiveness. She easily portrays both Toni’s grace and confidence in boxing and her awkward, beginner attempts at dancing. Toni’s relationships with those around her are also a highlight of the film, and illustrate her wavering between her comfort as a boxer and her desire to join the dancers. While Donté is at first Toni’s closest friend and confidante, she starts seeing him less as a mentor and more as an overbearing older brother after she joins the dance team. Fellow dancer Beezy (Alexis Neblett) befriends Toni through offerings of gummy worms and glittery temporary tattoos, and slowly coaxes her out of her shell throughout the course of the film.
Holmer relies on clever techniques to relay the film’s themes. Toni’s ostracization from those around her is made physical throughout the movie: she is often shown alone, or peering through windows at things she feels separated from. Several short, almost silent scenes convey the poignancies of adolescence. Beezy watches as Toni stoically pierces her own ears in the community center bathroom; the two girls paint each others’ nails with polish; and Donté and Toni’s chores devolve into play fights and laughter. The stillness of the film artfully highlights Toni’s emotional turmoil and the themes of isolation and loneliness.
As one by one the dancers suffer from strange fits of fainting, the illness turns into a sort of rite of passage. The dancers brag about their first experiences with fainting and bond over the mystery. Toni is one of the few girls who does not faint and slowly grows distanced again from the dance team, making “the fits” an inventive metaphor for her continued inability to fit in. Many events in the film are ambiguous, inviting viewers to reflect and read between the lines. With its complex themes, strong characters and gifted actors, “The Fits” is a well-crafted debut from Holmer.
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