Dan Gertler Reviews: The Fits

The fits (2015) tells the story of Toni (Royalty Hightower), an 11-year-old girl who is only used to the company of boys at the gym in her local community center but becomes entranced by a girls’ dance troupe. The film narrates her struggle to be accepted by the group of girls, while these suffer from an inexplicable pandemic of violent fits.

The film makes a fascinating use of sound, mixing rhythm with disharmonious bits of music and tapping feet. Added to this is the fierce physicality of the female characters – the fits are as evident in the girls’ dance as they are in the inexplicable episodes they experience. A close-up of one of the older girls during a dance-off is as mesmerizing to us as it is to Tony, who longs to be part of that powerful, mysterious world.

Royalty Hightower has the kind of elegant beauty that you rarely find these days. It is partially what accentuates the contrast between her tomboy character and her wish to be accepted by the group of girls. But what really holds the film together is the power of her facial expression, particularly considering how the film is compiled primarily of shots of Toni staring directly at the viewer.
What I find particularly impressive about the film is the lack of dependency on the adult characters. The entire plot is centered around Toni and her struggle with the many layers of identity that make out who each of us is. Placing us in the world of teenagers (both those who have just entered their teenage years and those who are nearing to its completion), the film raises even more questions about the process by which our identities are formed.

This is the kind of film that refuses to feed the viewer with a silver spoon, not volunteering any explicit information as to what the characters feel, the meaning of symbols such as Toni’s earrings, and the metaphorical importance of the fits. The viewers are left on their own to deal with questions of gender, coming of age, and the place of social roles in our society.

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