Movies My Wife Made Me Watch:
The Fits (2016)
Directed by Anna Rose Holmer
Reviewed by James Rosario on January 19, 2017
Where to begin with Anna Rose Holmer’s debut, The Fits? My wife is a big boxing, MMA, and all around fight fan, so when she suggested we watch the film, and told me a bit about it, I thought we were getting a boxing picture. I had seen The Fits on a few year-end lists, but knew next to nothing about it. From what I gathered, it was the story of a young boxer who decided she might try her hand at dancing instead. It is that, but it’s a whole lot more too. In fact, I’m having some difficulty nailing down just what the hell it is at all. It’s certainly a coming of age tale that explores loneliness and the desire to fit in, but it might also be a Science Fiction film with a strange foreboding sense of horror. On this note, I found that it has more in common with The Witch (2016) than it does with “insert Sports Film title here.” The film is free from triumphant sports movie genre trappings because it’s not really a sports movie. As a matter of fact, it’s free of any genre trappings because it skates elegantly across so many genres. Most of the time, this would be a bad thing, and the film would be largely panned. In the case of The Fits, however, it works beautifully.
Toni (amazing newcomer, Royalty Hightower) is a tomboy who spends her time training with her older brother at a boxing gym in a local rec center. After seeing the comradery of the dance troupe that practices down the hall, she begins to take an interest in dancing. After some encouragement from her brother, she decides to give it a try. At first, she isn’t very good—but neither are any of the other new recruits—but in time, she starts to figure it out. Toni also makes some friends along the way, something you get the sense she’s never really had, not because there’s anything unlikable about her, it’s just that she’s dedicated to boxing and has never really been around other girls. This is when things start to get weird. The members of the dance team begin having, what appears to be, some sort of seizure episodes, sending them to the hospital for a few days. One by one they have them. It might be contaminated water, it might be something else, nobody knows. Toni and her new friends do their best to cope with the strange occurrences.
How all of this is achieved is one of the things that is so striking about The Fits. Through the first third or so of the film, there is almost no dialogue. We simply follow Toni around and observe her life. She spends long moments just staring into the camera. Ordinarily, this might be off putting, maybe even amateurish, but not so here. The young Ms. Hightower is able to convey exactly what her character is feeling and thinking while maintaining both silence, and an unmoving expression. The performance she gives is so minimal, yet so genuine. I’ll take what this young actress has to offer over any Oscar bait performance any day of the week.
It’s not just the acting that’s minimal, though. The direction and cinematography are too, and it’s just as effective. We’re really not shown very much, to tell you the truth. A lot of the action takes place off screen, and our characters simply react to it. It’s an interesting approach that could have easily failed, but it works so well here due to the strength of Hightower’s performance. We don’t need to see everything because she is seeing it. Her reactions, as minimal as they are, tell us what we need to know.
The film really is something to look at and hear too. Thanks to cinematographer Paul Yee, it has a kind of downtrodden gloominess to it that is difficult to nail down into words. It’s not depressing, but it’s not uplifting either. As I said earlier, if I were to compare it to anything released recently, it would strangely enough be The Witch. Story-wise, the two films couldn’t be more different, but if you were to compare lighting, color palate, and lens choices, you’d find yourself in the same stylistic ballpark. Same goes for the score, which provides an eerie sense of foreboding over both films. This type of score shouldn’t work this well for a movie like The Fits, but it does. It’s quite remarkable.
Remarkable is a word I could use repeatedly while describing The Fits. There are so many things that could have gone wrong, but instead, everything clicked just right, leaving us with a film that not only defies expectations, but possibly sets the bar for many indies to come. It manages to portray adolescent loneliness realistically and romantically, but it also has a dreamlike aura about it that helps it keep its head in the clouds. It’s a fascinating character study with some ethereal surrealism added to keep us guessing. It’s a small—even tiny—film that is well worth a look.
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