'The Fits': A girl finds herself in a movie like you've never seen before

Molly Eichel, Staff Writer

Updated: Friday, June 24, 2016, 3:01 AM

Royalty Hightower as a rec center boxer who joins a dance troupe in "The Fits."

The Fits is the most engaging movie I've ever seen with such little dialogue and such a minimal plot. Like its lead Royalty Hightower, whose performance is just as spectacular as her name, The Fits is impossible to look away from. It's gorgeous, poetic, and opaque, and I've never seen any other movie like it.

Toni (Hightower) is a staple of her rec center boxing gym, where she, her brother, and a host of teen boys spar and battle away their free time. It's her life, until she sees the Lionesses, the all-female dance troupe that practices down the hall.

The boys she boxes with may show their aggression through their jabs, but the Lioness girls have their own battles and they exert their own power.

Toni, ever curious, peers through the rec center window. There, she sees the two leaders of the troupe one-upping each other's moves. They never touch, and they have smiles on their faces, but they are working just as hard as the boys in the ring.

Toni decides to join the Lionesses - what's the worst that can happen?

There are movies of young women fighting against traditional femininity, but so rarely do we see the reverse. And what's important is that Toni is allowed to dance without it defining who she is and what she does.

It's not that she's leaving her tomboyish past behind for nail polish and earrings - two characteristics of the troupe she adopts. She can float through both worlds, never defined by one gender type or another.

On the dance floor, Toni applies the same workmanship she displays at the boxing gym. She meets a precocious buddy, Beezy (Alexis Neblett), who calls Toni "Guns" because of her cut arms and wants to share gummy worms with her.

Soon, the Lioness girls start having the unexplained spasms referenced in the title. Even in their pain and agony, their movements are beautiful and have their own sort of grace, captured by cinematographer Paul Yee.

Nor are those movements ever explained. Is the water contaminated? No. First-time director Anna Rose Holmer, who cowrote the story, won't let The Fits be reduced to such an easy answer.

The Fits is hard to explain in words because it's so visual, but that doesn't make it inscrutable. It's a pleasure to watch, even at its most opaque.

The ending may not be pat, but it still felt entirely satisfying to me. While there's no grand conclusion, I felt that I had just watched something special.





The Fits

4 stars (Out of four stars)

Directed by Anna Rose Holmer. With Royalty Hightower, Alexis Neblett, Inayah Rodgers, Da'Sean Minor. Distributed by Oscilloscope.

Running time: 1 hours, 12 mins.

Parent's guide: Not rated.

Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse.

Molly Eichel, Staff Writer

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