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The Fits is a psychological portrait of 11-year-old Toni-a tomboy assimilating to a tight-knit dance team in Cincinnati's West End. Enamored by the power and confidence of this strong community of girls, Toni eagerly absorbs routines, masters drills, and even pierces her own ears to fit in. When a mysterious outbreak of fainting spells plagues the team, Toni's desire for acceptance is twisted.Written by
Great control over what it is trying to do and how it is doing it; a very well-directed Hightower brings it home
By way of unintentional contrast, I watched The Fits not long after watching The Falling – a film similar in that it deals with mass fainting of girls around the age of puberty. I will not compare and contrast the films, except to say that while The Falling left me on the outside looking it, The Fits manages to draw me into a character for whom I have little in common, make me understand what she is going through, and very much feel for her throughout the film.
The plot sees a young girl stop boxing with her older brother in the gym and start to pay attention to the all-girl dance troupe that practice in another hall. As she joins the group and starts to integrate, some of the older girls fall into sudden seizures (which are dubbed 'the fits'). The split between those girls who have experienced these, and those that have not forms tensions within the wider group. The film achieves this while doing (by doing?) several surprising things. The most obvious is that dialogue is very light on the ground, and when it comes it tends to be functional stuff rather than any exposition or grandstanding for the cast to get their teeth into. The other thing it does is let the actual fits be a background thing – something that is happening but is not our focus; instead Toni is our focus, and our relationship to anything in the film is through her.
There are so many ways this could not have worked, but it pulls it off well. Hightower gives a great performance and is very well directed; so much I was invested in with her character was down to small reactions, body language, the sense of pent up feeling – all of it drawing me in and giving me things I could relate to even if the specifics I could not. The journey is very clear, and the implied meanings are fairly obvious – but it is the intelligence and subtlety of the story- telling through this character that makes it more than just a series of events (far from it in fact).
The Fits is a beautifully observed character study, which never lets the plot device become more than the people – and Toni is accessible and engaging as a character, and thanks to a very well-directed performance from the young lead. It is not a perfect film, and the sense of space may annoy some viewers, or the weakness of some aspects may grate, but at its core it is a tremendous film with near total control over what it is trying to do and how it is trying to do it.
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