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Film review: Anna Rose Holmer's indie hit 'The Fits'

The Fits

Who is Anna Rose Holmer? Well she’s the writer and director of a 72 minute indie by the name of the ‘The Fits’, which inexplicably has garnered a slew of accolades from a host of major critics. Like many fledgling indie directors, Holmer shows great promise in the technical area of filmmaking and The Fits doesn’t disappoint when it comes to some great editing and cinematography. But as far as screen writing, Holmer doesn’t have a clue how to develop characters or construct a plot featuring a modicum of suspense.

Holmer’s narrative is mainly shot in an inner city community centre in Cincinnati, and her protagonist is one Toni, played by 11-year-old Royalty Hightower, whom the critics have taken under their wing as cinema’s next great child actor (I won’t speculate as to why this has come to be—only to throw in my two cents that this is a young girl who lacks the requisite charm for placement in the pantheon of young, precocious, cinematic talent).The plot here (if there is one) concerns Toni’s desire to join the Lionesses Dance Team, an all female pre-pubescent/teenage dance group that specialises in competitive dance drills. Toni finally makes the team, despite opposition from two older girls, who dislike outsiders infringing on their turf.

In addition to the focus on choreography, there’s the artificial intrusion of a plot point concerning some of the girls felled by seizures, fainting spells, which may or may not be blamed on contaminated drinking water inside the gym. The introduction of the “Fits”—the aforementioned seizures—does little to evoke suspense and awkwardly attempts to link the film’s narrative to the horror genre.

What then has captivated the critics about this very slight bauble of a film? Ty Burr, writing in the Boston Globe describes Toni’s experience as a “rite of passage”—she’s particularly impressed with a scene such as this one for some reason: ” Toni piercing her ears in the community center’s bathroom as her friends comment and help out.”

The NY Times critic, Mahnola Dargis, likes it because it’s free of controversy: “The miracle of the movie is that, like Toni, it transcends blunt, reductive categorisation partly because it’s free of political sloganeering, finger wagging and force-fed lessons.”Noel Murray writing in the A.V. Club feels that Toni’s “awkward puberty” is a revelation: “For Toni, who practices and practices—fruitlessly—to move as gracefully and throw shade as fiercely as her peers, this new level of badass womanhood represents something else she may never be able to attain. The best she can do is to keep honing her own private, personal hybrid of fighting and stepping, while waiting for some inexplicable external force to define who she’s going to be.”

Only Nikola Grozdanovic in IndieWire is on to something when he writes that Holmer is walking a very thin line between “special” and “disposable.” Grozdanovic is perhaps the only brave enough critic to draw this damning conclusion about The Fits: ” The emotional investment, fully rounded characters, and engaging events that are needed to make the film work on all fronts simply isn’t there. Three writers (Holmer, Saela Davis, and Lisa Kjerluff) are credited for what turns out to be the film’s Achilles’ heel; and at some point on the way, it gets irreparably sprained.”

When all is said and done, The Fits is really a documentary masquerading as a short feature film. The subject matter is so slight that I wonder why its director was drawn to it in the first place. Director Holmer is guilty of perhaps a neophyte’s hubris. With all the good scripts out there, why not work with someone who has an established track record or an exceptionally talented newcomer? Instead, it’s the old indie film canard—a technical virtuoso attempting to develop a visually impressive but inert, intellectually barren script.