VOD film review: The Fits
Matthew Turner | On 13, Mar 2017
Director: Anna Rose Holmer
Cast: Royalty Hightower, Makyla Burnam, Inayah Rodgers, Alexis Neblett, Da’Sean Minor, Antonio A.B. Grant Jr
Directed by first-timer Anna Rose Holmer, this meticulously crafted coming-of-ager stars the gloriously named Royalty Hightower as 11-year-old African-American Toni, who lives in Cincinnati and spends all her free time training in a local boxing gym with her older brother, Jermaine (Minor).
After Toni’s attention is drawn to an all-girl championship dance troupe, who practice in the room next door, she auditions for the team and begins training with the older girls. However, her experience with the troupe takes a sudden and mysterious turn, when various members succumb to weird fainting fits and convulsions. (It would make a fascinating double-bill with Carol Morley’s similarly-themed school drama The Falling.)
Holmer’s direction is immediately striking: we first meet Toni as she’s doing sit-ups in the gym, the camera tight on her face as she moves in and out of shot. Indeed, the camera never strays too far from Hightower’s mesmerising face, creating an intense and powerful intimacy that’s reminiscent of the work of the Dardenne Brothers.
Holmer’s sparse script (from a story she co-wrote with Saela Davis and Lisa Kjerulff) deliberately leaves the fits themselves open to interpretation, but their metaphorical significance is clear, with the fainting spells adroitly illustrating the powerful onset of female adolescence, the sudden change that marks you out from your previous peer group.
To that end, it’s occasionally frustrating not to get a little more meat on the bones of Toni’s story (we learn next to nothing about her home life, for example), although it’s clear this is a deliberate decision on Holmer’s part and that the film is intentionally much more concerned with atmosphere and mood than plot and character.
With that in mind, the film gets great mileage out of the tiniest details, such as the fact that Toni’s temporary flower tattoos keep peeling off, or her earrings get infected – both affectations she had adopted in order to fit in with her new group.
Hightower’s performance is incredibly assured, displaying a confident physicality that belies her character’s innate shyness, as if Toni is channelling all her pent-up, soon-to-be-adolescent energy into her daily fitness routine (for which, also symbolically, she largely has to wait until the boys are finished). There’s also likeable support from Alexis Neblett, as Toni’s chatty new friend Beezy, who nicknames her “Guns”.
This is a strikingly original coming-of-age indie that marks out both Holmer and Hightower as talents to watch.