The Fits /Anna Rose Holmer / 2016 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Tonal balance; Modest scope; Depiction of joy
Side Effects: Mystery surrounding “the fits”

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The Fits is a fantastic debut of a new voice and a refreshing sensibility. Co-writer and director Anna Rose Holmer shows remarkable control over the size and scope of the world she depicts—an impress feat for a first-time feature director. She’s content to keep the film modest. “Modest” may feel like a dirty word, but it’s the perfect choice for this wispy breath of a film. Holmer’s vision and execution are perfectly aligned.

The Fits presents a small and insular world built around a community center in Cincinnati. Strikingly and refreshingly, the film is populated almost entirely by non-white faces, by authentic and recognizable young people occupying one of two spaces: the male-dominated activity of boxing, and the female-dominated activity of hip-hop dancing. 11-year-old Toni (importantly both a masculine and a feminine name) is the sole go-between, a young girl navigating her own space and finding her positioning within and between each group. In the film’s best moment, about half way through, Toni seems to find a perfect bliss midway between boxing and dancing as she practices ecstatically on a bridge. The form of her punching influences the dance, and the dynamism of the dance influences her boxing. It’s a genuinely touching scene of accepting a mixed identity (and, if you choose to read the film this way, queerness).

Toni, though, is trepidatious to come into her own—something many adolescents can relate to. Growing up can be a positive experience, but also a scary one, and The Fits makes room within its modest frame for both extremes. The title refers to a strange, uncontrollable nervous attack that afflicts some of the girls in Toni’s dance troupe. It’s a neat metaphor for the experience of coming of age, and while the film skirts an unnecessary air of supernatural mystery around it, it remains relevant and illuminating.

Just like adolescence, “the fits” impacts different girls in different ways. For some, it might represent an inevitable calling into reductive and limited social roles. For others, though, the fits represent a joyous, ecstatic occasion of becoming.

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