Anna Rose Holmer’s debut feature The Fits is a coming-of-age film with a dash of eeriness. Portraying pre-adolescence in inner-city Cincinnati, it explores the quiet but intense world of 11-year-old Toni (Royalty Hightower), an independent, strong-minded girl training to be a boxer. Spending her time at the boys’ gym, with her brother as coach, Toni has the determination and spirit of an old soul, until her curiosity is piqued by the gyrating, impassioned dance team, the Lionesses. Intrigued, she joins the group, awkwardly trying to follow the dancing. Mimicking the teens, Toni pierces her own ears, posing before a mirror. Then, as if the woman in her is trying to be born too soon, she reverts back to being a tomboy, seeming to embody two states in one form.
When the girls begin having unexplainable seizures – each uniquely different – the film diverges into the mystical, culminating with Toni’s otherworldly euphoric and ecstatic manifestation of a “fit”. It is as if these adolescents are imbued with magical pagan gifts – the potency of budding fertility, recalling the atmosphere of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock.
The Fits is a feminist movie but with an attitude of insouciance, as these teens are clearly confident in their girl power, within enraptured blossoming womanhood. Their banter about boys assumes their equality: “That’s Dante, he does what he wants”, “Yeah, but what about what I want?”.
Holmes eschews portraying a setting of inner-city poverty and crime; instead the characters’ lack of means is expressed through their use of urban landscape exteriors for their workouts and for dancing, and details such as Toni piercing her own ears. Rather than a situation depicted to inspire pity, the filmmaker communicates a triumphant positivity in their ingenuity, hard work and ambition. The world is their gym and their stage.
All the actors are very natural and accomplished; in particular, Royalty Hightower as Toni is superb, and Alexis Neblett is priceless as Beezy. Sound effects are strong and imposing, lending an ominous, even creepy tone. The soundtrack’s initial incongruity with the visuals and narrative suggests surreal undertones to an urban reality. With sumptuous camera work, great close-ups and detailed shots, The Fits has more characterisation and mood than it does defined narrative. A slice of life with a twist of the mystical, there are questions with no answers, but to seek answers seems irrelevant.
The Fits is released nationwide on 24th February 2017.
Watch the trailer for The Fits here: