2016 Milwaukee Film Festival – Review – THE FITS
THE FITS is an impressive first feature from Anna Rose Holmer. It’s formally daring, well shot, manages to keep its subtext as clear subtext, and features good performances up and down the cast with a really fine performance from newcomer Royalty Hightower.
THE FITS revolves around 11-year old tomboy Toni (Royalty Hightower) who spends her days at a Cincinnati community center where her brother trains boxers, including herself. One day Toni takes note of a female dance troupe also using the building and decides to join these young women. Soon thereafter, starting with the older girls, a string of seizures starts to run through the troupe. At the same time, Toni starts to make female friends, doing things without her brother, pursues less masculine activities, and does typical coming of age things like pierce her ears. And she worries that she may be next in line for the fits. Or maybe she hopes for it.
You don’t have to be Freud to figure out what the fits, something the older girls get and something the younger girls both fear and hope for, represents. THE FITS doesn’t spell out what it means in detail either, THE FITS is neither a procedural nor a film interested in explaining its central metaphor to death. In fact it’s hard to describe it, it’s certainly a character study and coming of age story, but it also has elements that verge on horror and elements that look like a dance movie or boxing movie. It could have been a mess, but Anna Rose Holmer’s control of the frame and tone keeps the film making emotional sense at all times and her various visual motifs, such as Toni’s practicing her dance moves, all pay off in a big way by the end of the film.
No small part of the film’s success traces back to Royalty Hightower who just commands the screen. She doesn’t say much, but with her expressive face she doesn’t have to. You can sense the depth of feeling and her emotions, often conflicted, in every shot. She’s a young actress to watch out for, and I hope the awards circuit remembers her this year.
THE FITS won the Competition category at the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival. Even though I haven’t seen the competition, this feels like the right choice. It’s an accomplished piece of filmmaking which tackles subjects not often seen on the big screen, coming of age for young women, with a rare protagonist, African-American pre-teen girl, and tackles the subject in a way that is purely cinematic. That’s no small feat and makes THE FITS one of the cinematic debuts of the year.