Young girls finding their place and trying to fit in. Doing what they can or what they think they need to do to have friends. To feel as though they’re not different.It’s not a new narrative. It’s one where art imitates reality or visa versa. But The Fits puts the coming-of-age tale into a different perspective.
The 2015 film, directed by Anna Rose Holmer, explores a psychological representation of an 11-year-old tomboy’s journey of fitting in and finding her voice. On face value The Fits, set at Cincinnati’s Lincoln Recreation Centre, draws similarities to the box office hit Billy Elliot. Although this time the main character is prepubescent girl Toni (Royalty Hightower) who spends her time boxing with her brother Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor). Until one day she peers through the window of the Lionesses dance troupe practice.
For Toni, like with Billy, the window is a look into a parallel world where there’s energy and self expression. It’s a glimpse into the feminine realm where dancers are a team and work together, as opposed to the masculine boxers who are on their own and fight one another. From that moment Toni, who is longing for friends, swaps her boxing gloves and the male dominated boxing ring for sequinned costumes and the sassy feminine world of dance.
It’s there she befriends another new dance recruit, Beezy (Alexis Neblett) who helps Toni find her voice and teaches her to have fun. Up until that point the audience doesn’t hear Toni speak, or even know her name for that matter. Intended for a dramatic effect to show she’s shy and lonely. It’s only until she’s doing what she loves that she finds her voice. Not having Toni speak for what feels like the first 15 minutes of the movie doesn’t work. It could have been powerful but her silence drags. The length of time Toni doesn’t speak draws out an already slow-paced movie that only goes for an hour and 12 minutes.
In addition, the minimal dialogue and airy orchestral music results in the audience hoping for some sort of dramatic conflict. The music intends to say what the characters don’t and at times it works but the sheer power of the music itself takes over and adds more colour to what the actors have to work with. Cinematically the intense close-ups add power and display Hightower’s expressive talent. But they’re almost overused at every turn and jump cut, decreasing they’re intended impact.
Needed colour is added to scenes when Toni tries to fit in by piercing her own ears or by wearing gold sparkly nail polish. But they’re short lived. The only external drama that unfolds is when the dancers begin to get sick and have inexplainable seizures, or fits. But even this is subdued. The dance captain is the first to have an episode before several other girls in the pecking order are affected too. Similar to their dance moves, the girls’ bodies flail violently in front of their team members before they fall to the ground, similar to when a boy is knocked out in the boxing ring.
Fellow team members are horrified but also fascinated and mesmerised by the episodes, especially because the victims recover soon after. They’re fascination with the fits is accentuated when team members film one girl’s fit. Skimming over the reality of the world we now live in where every young person has a phone that they can use to record someone’s misery on rather than help them. It’s here that the movie somewhat gains momentum and adds some much-needed suspense.
Contaminated water is initially blamed for the fits but is soon ruled out, making it more plausible that the girls are faking the fits for attention. When Toni overhears her team members talking about the fits they speak as though team members who haven’t had one are misfits. It’s not until her two friends Beezy and Maia (Lauren Gibson) have fits that the audience questions whether Toni will follow in her peers’ footsteps. It all depends on how badly she wants to fit in and whether she will succumb to that pressure.
The film’s pace is disappointing and lets the plot down but there’s some great cinematography that at times upholds what the dialogue lacks. Overall the message is powerful and is presented in an artistic way that allows the audience to draw their own idea on what it all means.
THE FITS is released in the UK & Ireland by Lionsgate UK and will be IN CINEMAS 24 FEBRUARY 2017 also be available on Digital Download March 13 and on DVD March 20. La Biennale di Venezia and Yes, Ma’am! Films produce, alongside Lionsgate UK.
By Lauren Pilat