Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
ND/NF ’16: The Fits
could be worse. When teenaged girls starting having convulsions in Salem, half
the town was accused of witchcraft. In this case, it might merely be
environmental toxicity or perhaps peer pressure. The emotional tangle that
comes with puberty probably also plays a role in Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits (trailer here), which screens
during this year’s New Directors/New Films.
Toni trains alongside her Golden Gloves contending brother Jermaine and helps
him finish his chores around the recreation center near their home in the Cincinnati
projects. She is one tough eleven-year-old, but her socialization is a little
underdeveloped. Understanding her need for belonging, her brother encourages her
to try out for the Lionesses, a competitive dance team that also trains in the
duly makes the cut for their preteen auxiliary, despite her dubious sense of
rhythm. Of course, she brings the same determination to her practice routines
that she did in her sit-ups and pull-ups with Jermaine. However, the team
suffers a setback when the captain breaks out into a fit of spasms. She will
not be the only one. Several other team members will have similar seizure-like episodes.
Unfortunately, there will be enough incidents to force the Lionesses to drop
out of what would have been her first competition.
and foremost, it should be established both Royalty Hightower and Da’Sean Minor
are terrific as Toni and Jermaine. Hightower just commands the screen with an
intensity beyond her youthful years. Some might overlook Minor’s first-rate
work as a result, but he is enormously charismatic and gives a finely nuanced,
completely grounded performance.
all the kids are spot-on in their roles, which makes the narrative flatness of
Holmer's screenplay so agonizingly frustrating. Basically, there seem to be
elements of The Breakfast Club mashed
together with Todd Haynes’ Safe, but
it doesn’t seem to have much to say about the kids’ social and cultural milieu.
Adults are conspicuously absent in this world, but it is unclear how much we
are supposed to read into that. Far from running amok, both the dancers and the
boxers appear to lead very disciplined and structured lives.
Holmer shows admirable restraint handling the fits themselves. There are just
enough of them to be a legitimate cause for concern, but not enough to trigger
skepticism from the adult coach who belatedly turns up in the third act. As a
work of slice-of-life naturalism, Fits is
quite successful. Viewers come to understand Toni’s universe is entirely
circumscribed by the projects, the rec center, and the bridge connecting them
(which happen to be great for stair-step work) and we feel like we know every
inch of the latter two.
There are at least two future stars in The Fits and possibly a whole lot more. Unfortunately,
the deliberate ambiguities give the film a feeling of incompleteness rather
than mysteriousness. Frankly, it wears its first film status (of the narrative feature
variety) on its sleeve, but that also makes it a logical fit for New
Directors/New Films. Recommended with considerable reservations solely for the
performances of its talented, in-the-process-of-being-discovered cast, The Fits screens tonight (3/19) at MoMA
and tomorrow (3/20) at the Walter Reade, as part of ND/NF ’16.
Labels: ND/NF '16