The Fits (2016)

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“Here comes that little tomboy.”

I left the theater thinking that I hated The FitsThen I drove off, turned down the radio dial, and started to ask myself questions. Why did it do this or that? What was the reason for such and such shot? And every single time, I found an answer filed away somewhere in the network of my brain. The film relies on primitiveness; movement, sound, scope. As such, you have to really let your guard down to allow for the release and the freedom that it arouses. This little 72 minute movie may not be one meant to be enjoyed, but like the overflowing theme at its center, it assumes near absolute control of our heads.

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The Fits characterizes its characters by placing them in definitive spaces. For our lead Toni (Royalty Hightower, an impressive new actress), she spends her days in a Cincinnati gym with her older brother. Look closely and you’ll find every shot of her associates itself with boxing. A close-up counting fierce situps, sparring in the ring, washing dirty towels, lugging around her gear. That is ToniBut just around the rec center corner are The Lionesses, a local dance troupe who she peers at through safety glass, a beautiful visual metaphor depicting Toni’s distancing from the wild and the unrestrained dancing of the young women. It’s our first time seeing her dip her toes into new waters, testing out whether she would sink or swim.

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Toni joins the group, trading in gray sweatpants for vibrant clothing. Shortly after her arrival, girl after girl begin to fall victim to the fits: seizures, vomiting, shaking. These are no rage induced conniptions; the girls are fine afterwards. Herein lies the interpretative nature of the film. Are they coming of age? Is it a communal pledge or rite of passage? It never comes right out and tells you, preferring each member in the audience to write their own definition. Movies like this one only work when they give you enough information, however oblique it all may be, to form a conclusion. The Fits does just that.

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The directorial debut from Anna Rose Holmer signals a unique, promising talent behind the camera. Her compositions evoke a sort of dreamy, rapturous fever pitch, keeping us off-balance and on our toes. I’d argue that it doesn’t have enough of a grip on its tone, as well as that it feels unusually long for its brevity. Both qualities make this one a demanding sit through, yet also a rewarding experience for the amount of effort we have to put in. You reap what you sow. The Fits invites us to plant the seeds of ambiguity alongside it. What comes from the ground will doubtlessly be different for all, but trust that the good earth and the foundation of Holmer’s film is rich. You’ll have something to chew on.

“The only way to lose a fight is if you don’t get in the ring.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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