Eagerly defying genre labeling while bucking coming of age storytelling convention, The Fits directed by Anna Rose Holmer is a rallying cry for girls everywhere and a true success. Evocative and exploding onto the screen with gusto, Holmer has directed a film unlike any other before it, swathed in lavish color that makes the audience want to devour it whole.
It begins, as many a coming of age story does, on a young girl who feels displaced. Toni (played with a fervent charisma by Royalty Hightower) spends most of her time at the boxing gym with her older brother. One day though, she catches a glimpse of all girl dance team, laughing and cheering as they race through the halls, and is transported. Transfixed by the camaraderie and sense of belonging, she signs up to join the team. However, soon the girls are afflicted with bizarre, inexplicable seizures that equally frighten the girls as well as give those who suffered through them a commonality. It’s yet another layer to Toni’s inner anxiety of wanting to belong. Mixing coming of age theme with science fiction tones and with a lyrical composition that results in an almost music video aesthetic, Holmer has created a film that’s reach goes beyond its genre.
Hyper stylized and focused on our leading ladies inner emotions, spelled out beautifully across Hightower’s face, the film at times becomes nearly non-verbal, feelings being expressed through motions and camera movements and the way two girls race gleefully through a hallway, rather than be expressed through dialogue. Holmer has shot a gorgeous to look at picture, never wasting a frame or a word when she doesn’t need to, understanding that the story can be short without being slight.
With this and Carol Morely’s The Falling starring Maisie Williams in 2015, it’s interesting to see two films so closely together tackle themes of womanhood and growing up with fainting spells as their Trojan horse. Such as was the case with The Falling, Holmer’s The Fits utilization of the girls experiencing some variations of a seizure demonstrates the abstract need to fit in for girls growing up. Despite how scary these “fits” are to many of the onlooking girls, there’s also a sense of longing, of wanting to belong in this group who have experienced it, moved on and can now bond over it.
But to boil The Fits down into a single theme is to disservice the film and the work put into it. The Fits achieves something beyond the typical narrative, beyond the screen and pages of a script to tap into something evocative. The moments of dance from Toni are explosive, moments of joy that she hides during most her day under a cool exterior. In these moments of dance Holmer has capture that unfettered love people possess, touching on that “dance like no one’s watching” slogan. The Fits markets itself as psychological drama, and no doubt it is, but there’s something more basic and emotional at it’s core. With it’s plain settings and non-actor performers, the film has an air of realism that helps tether it’s viewers to these characters as the storyline aims to sweep them off their feet.
It’s a story about one girl who is trying to fit in with a rhythmic and kinetic director telling that story, and it’s powerful. While the last five minutes may possibly be divisive, it’s one of the most inventive ends to a film I’m seen in a long time and Holmer’s vision for the film helps it take the leap from ordinary coming of age tale to something more and it’s beautiful.