Directed by Anna Rose Holmer
Anna Rose Holmer has reasons to be proud of her first feature. The slight drama “The Fits” is a true representative of the independent production and can be seen as an experimental exercise on mood, style, and storytelling.
The story focuses on Toni (Royalty Hightower), an 11-year-old girl who, daily and obsessively, trains at a Cincinnati’s West End’s gym where she joins a team of drill dancers who, one at the time, are experiencing uncanny fits that last a few minutes.
Despite playing the strong girl by exhibiting her natural boyish behavior, Toni always shows uneasiness when some girl deals with this type of seizure, an enigma that they start to associate to water contamination. However, in her quiet way, she pretends not to care about the matter, working hard in order to be ready to compete, at the same time that tries to become acquainted with teachers, teammates, and routines.
Doing everything that’s needed to fit in, even piercing her own ears, Toni seems to vacillate a bit when her best friend, Beezy (Alexis Neblett), is caught by the fainting spell.
Amidst the precise and enthusiastic movements of the drill team choreography (a mix of dancing and boxing), we can sense some solitude, perhaps even sadness, when we look at Toni. We’re not told how her home environment is, but we conclude she would stay in the gym day and night if she could. Sometimes she stays longer to help Jermaine (Da'Sean Minor), her older brother and boxing trainer, who cleans the place after hours. Their relationship isn't bad but slightly distant.
Ms. Holmer, who co-wrote with Saela Davis and Lisa Kjerulff, showed a terrific eye for detail and mood, challenging, intriguing, and intoxicating without giving us any answer.
Cleverly staged and pulsating with energy, the film relies heavily on the strong visual language and the powerful score by Saunder Jurriaans and Danny Bensi, a fundamental element that helps to install the perplexing atmosphere.
I see “The Fits” as a nonconformist drama, which not being necessarily a good thing, worked beautifully in the present case. It also served as a demanding acting exercise for Royalty Hightower who was simply remarkable in her first role.