The Fits

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Laura Clifford 
The Fits

Robin Clifford 

11 year-old Toni (Royalty Hightower) prefers to spend her time on the boys' side of Lincoln Community Center, the boxing gym, with her older brother Jermaine (Da'Sean Minor).  Then one afternoon as she's helping him with his janitorial duties, Toni is mesmerized by a girls' dance class.  She begins to watch from afar, then joins, but as she struggles to come up to speed, one by one, older members begin to experience strange seizure-like episodes called "The Fits."

Laura:
With her feature debut, writer/director Anna Rose Holmer hasn't settled for the usual Indie coming-of-age tale that's all so familiar.  Instead, she's given us something almost otherworldly, using the phenomenon of mass hysteria as a stepping stone into adolescence.  That her film uses little dialogue, instead expressing emotion through movement, makes it that more remarkable.

Toni works out with the boys, but she's internally focused on physical training, sparring her one concession.  But the young girl accomplished in sit-ups, pull-ups and running is awkward when she begins to try out the dance moves she's seen, never in sync with the group.  Encouraged by the younger Beezy (Alexis Neblett, a pint-sized force of nature), Toni practices relentlessly.

The team's captain is the first to succumb to the strange affliction and when more follow, the facility's water supply comes under suspicion.  Toni, who's pierced her own ears in an effort to fit in with the older girls, takes them out.  'I don't want it to happen to me,' she tells Beezy. Walking home detouring through an unfilled public pool, Toni runs into Maia (Lauren Gibson), who tells her she wants it to happen.  When Beezy joins the club, Toni finds herself a loner once again.  ('What do you know about it?' spits Beezy when Toni asks her how's she's feeling.)

Holmer's film takes a simple but unusual concept and uses it as a rite of passage.  There is a clear dividing line between the boys and the girls. After showing us the girls being measured for their costumes, we see the boys being weighed for their boxing matches ('I have to lose five pounds this weekend' moans Jermaine).  But as the fits occur more and more frequently, this line begins to blur, the dancers giggling as they peek into the boxing gym.

Documentary and music video cinematographer Paul Yee uses long takes, initially close in on Toni's physical training, then dwarfing her in open spaces (one memorable take sees Toni rigidly sweeping the gymnasium as Beezy skips and jumps along behind).  Dancers (with the exception of Hightower, Holmer cast her film with West Cincinnati's Q-Kidz) are portrayed as a unit, squad members following moves first performed by their captain, a stand-battle insistent with confident parries. Composers Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans ("Enemy," "The Gift")    score the film with atonal jazz and tribal beats, musical styles which converge when Toni triumphantly nails her routine on an overpass.

In her first role, Hightower commands the screen, her quiet concentration and physicality expressing Toni's interior life.  She's beautifully contrasted with the smaller, spunkier Neblett, the younger actress posing as both follower and leader.  The film also features one of the warmest brother-sister relationships in recent memory, Hightower opening up around the gentle, assured Minor.

"The Fits" concludes with a wide shot of the entire, bespangled group performing to Kiah Victoria's 'Aurora.'  The girls are a united sisterhood, ready to dance out into the world.

Grade:  B+

Robin:
Robin did not see this film.
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