Movie Review - The Fits

This movie tells the story of a young, African-American girl who is on the precipice of puberty. It's a coming-of-age story. She's slowly entering into womanhood, but she's not there yet. This movie and its title might be a metaphor for it. Her identity thus far is somewhat removed from womanly things or traditional ideas of femininity. The opening shot is the girl doing sit-up exercises. Next, we see her working out in a boxing gym. She's in fact training to be a boxer. At least, that's what it seems. The boxing gym is part of a larger complex, which also includes a space for an all-female, dance group to practice. The girl will do boxing but occasionally will spy on the dance group. From their behaviors, their attitudes and general way of being, she knows that she's not like the other girls, but the question is maybe she wants to be.

Royalty Hightower stars as LaTonya but people refer to her as Toni. She is perhaps 11 or 12. Her older brother Jermaine, played by Da'Sean Minor, works at the Lincoln Community Center, the aforementioned complex in some unidentified inner-city with a predominantly black population. Jermaine is an aspiring boxer. In between work and possibly school, he trains in the sport incessantly and has Toni train right along with him, often as hard as he does.

Directed and co-written by Anna Rose Holmer, the first 15 minutes or so of this movie is no dialogue. It's all just Toni training. She runs up-and-down stairs. She jumps rope. She hits the punching bag. After a while, it feels as if this movie might be the female version of Creed (2015). It also feels as if it might be an alternative to the upcoming dramatization of T-Rex, a documentary about the black, female, Olympic boxer from Michigan. However, Toni is always staring at the girl dancers, as she seems to be drawn to them and what they're doing.

Eventually, the film pivots and it becomes all about Toni trying out for this dance group called the Lionesse's Drill Team. It requires her to learn a difficult routine or piece of choreography. She has to practice it over and over until the movements and steps are second nature, until she can quickly do it without thinking about it. She has trouble at first, but she is dedicated and determined. As she goes along, she starts doing other things possibly to mimic the other girls, to assimilate and be more like them.

Unfortunately, a strange illness or disorder begins to affect the girls of the Drill Team. It looks like the girls are spontaneously or randomly having seizures or epileptic attacks. It's called "the fits." There's speculation but no explanation about what's causing the seizures, how to stop them or what they mean.

It's enough to scare Toni and derail her flow from what could be stereotyped as a mostly masculine persona, that of a boxer-in-training, to the mostly feminine persona, that of twerking and hand-clapping dancer. Up to the point of the seizures, the movie could be a more grounded version of Bring It On (2000) or Hit the Floor, the TV series about professional cheerleaders. Toni at one point clothes herself like a cheerleader in sequins and a dress. Yet, the seizures push her back into pants and sweats.

Strangely, the seizures aren't feared after a while. The girls who've had them start talking about the seizures as if they are a badge of honor. It becomes clear that Holmer intends for the seizures to mean more than what they might seem on the surface. It could be that the seizures are neither good nor bad, but simply a cost or a part of belonging to this group.

Toni resists at first and unlike the others she doesn't want to give into the seizures. In that regard, the seizures could represent any fear or any kind of hurdle, one that she can overcome or one that she can accept. Holmer underscores the fact that it's not affecting the boys in this center. It's not affecting the adults. It's only affecting these young black girls, which makes it uniquely their story. Yet, Toni is caught in the middle and has to choose which way to go, and if she's going to do what she has to do to fit in.

One could look at it as conformity or a girl falling into traditional gender roles, but, for some girls, this is what attracts them. If it excites her or makes her happy, then maybe she has to dance, not box.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for general audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 12 mins.

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