Combustible Celluloid
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With: Royalty Hightower, Alexis Neblett, Inayah Rodgers, Da'Sean Minor, Makyla Burnam, Antonio A.B. Grant Jr., Lauren Gibson
Written by: Anna Rose Holmer, based on a story by Anna Rose Holmer, Lisa Kjerulff, Saela Davis
Directed by: Anna Rose Holmer
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 72
Date: 06/17/2016

The Fits (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Mystery Dance

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Coming out of Sundance, this fascinating low-budget drama features the kind of bold, skillful filmmaking that seems largely missing from the movie scene today; it offers a profound puzzle to ponder, but no easy answers. Making her feature directing debut, Anna Rose Holmer uses industrialized locations (the gym, a crummy looking apartment complex, an overpass, etc.) each meticulously framed, to set her mood. The weather is overcast, and it could be any city, at any time of year.

Eleven year-old Toni (Royalty Hightower) spends her days helping her older brother Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor) at the gym, where he works training boxers. She also takes lessons from him, and has already built up some muscle and a fearsome jab. But as she peeks through the window to the dance studio next door, she realizes she wants to sign up for the girls' dance group. At first she doesn't fit in; her tomboy looks clash with the pretty, made-up older girls, who talk about their boyfriends in the locker room. She tries wearing earrings and nail polish, but becomes alarmed when the girls in the troupe begin suffering strange seizures. No one knows what's causing these fits, but before long they begin to have an unexpected effect.

In The Fits, no adults are shown, except out-of-focus in the background, and Toni is often isolated in the frame. (It's telling that the title, a "fit," is the same word as being unable to "fit" in.) Only the weird music indicates that something strange is going on, and the fits themselves are simply "metaphors," and are up for interpretation. The overall effect is surprisingly complete; it's touching, emotional, thought-provoking, and visually satisfying, with an exemplary, star-making performance by newcomer Royalty Hightower.

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