Life at the gym through young eyes: My review of The Fits

A- Doesn’t fit any genre

Written by Anna Rose Holmer, Saela Davis, and Lisa Kjerulff

Directed by Anna Rose Holmer

This impossible-to-categorize narrative film shows us the world of a public, inner-city gym through the eyes of the teenagers and pre-teens who use it. Specifically, we see it through the eyes of Toni (Royalty Hightower). Her older brother works at the gym while training to be a boxer. She helps him out, trains with him, and clearly idolizes him. She’s a very athletic girl.

But she’s growing up, and looking for ways to separate herself from her brother. So she sets boxing aside and joins the gym’s synchronized dancing team. Here she can be with other girls and become less of a tomboy. She doesn’t seem interested in boys yet, but she’s certainly interested in the way older girls try to attract boys.

Not that Toni ever describes such feelings. She rarely talks at all–at least in the film. But we don’t need dialog to understand what she’s thinking. Hightower’s expressive face and athletic physicality speaks volumes.

But something strange is going on amongst the dance team. Girls are breaking into fits, going out of control, shaking hysterically, and being sent away in an ambulance.

The adults suspect something in the water is causing the problem (the film was shot before the Flint water scandal; this real-life tragedy makes The Fits more timely than it was meant to be). Those adults are shown only in long shot–as vague, concerned authority figures trying to protect their charges. Most of the time, The Fits creates an almost-Peanuts-like sense of a world of youngsters. Only one line of dialog suggests that Toni and her brother live with their mother. Without that line, we would probably assume that the brother was raising her by himself.

The synchronized dancing is fun to watch, but director Anna Rose Holmer wisely keeps it from being too polished. This is a class; some of the girls are experienced, and some are not (including Toni). One of the funniest scenes in the film has the new girls trying dance moves and failing delightfully.

The Fits tells its story with visuals more than dialog. It captures an extraordinary view of young people growing up and challenging themselves.