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Edward Evdokimov
Edward Evdokimov

The Fits

An official tells the girls and their parents that she has found nothing wrong with the water. Beezy is called in to meet with the doctor and Toni watches through the window as she begins to seize. Later, Beezy and Maia talk about their experience with the fits as Toni listens.

The Fits

While developing the script, Holmer was inspired by real-life stories of communities succumbing to fits of hysteria.[7] She first became interested in historic cases of mass psychogenic illness and conversion disorder while producing Ballet 422 (2014).[8] Examples of outbreaks of seizure-like attacks and uncontrollable spasms date back to the Middle Ages, but there are still cases of this occurring today. In 2007, a group of high school girls in Virginia suffered from "twitching arms and legs" that eventually resolved itself.[9] Holmer's research into this subject, specifically cases like the dancing plague of 1518, and the pattern of these fits emerging amongst young women inspired her to explore the nature of this subject in a coming of age dance-film.[7]

After casting the Q Kidz, they opened up casting for the lead amongst them. Royalty Hightower, who was 9-years-old at the beginning of the process and had already been dancing with the Q Kidz for 3 years, was cast as Toni. Holmer commented that Hightower had "this amazing power of listening and observing...she was really in tune with her body, in a way that is necessary to play Toni."[12] Hightower worked in depth with movement consultant Celia Rowlson-Hall to appear bad at dancing in the beginning of the film.[13] Rowlson-Hall also choreographed all of the fits with each girl individually. They were developed in isolation so that the rest of cast only saw the performance on the day that it was filmed in order to create a unique and impactful moment for each girl.[8] Two of the Q Kidz dance captains, Mariah and Chariah Jones, helped to choreograph the film's dance battles and drill choreography as well as incorporating in boxing moves for Toni's character.[13]

As soon as she enters the world of girls, strange things start happening, and here is where "The Fits" really makes its impact. One by one, the girls succumb to a mysterious ailment with no apparent root cause. Their bodies flail, they stare up at the ceiling caught in a trance, they writhe on the floor in "fits." The community becomes alarmed and there's speculation that the water at the community center is contaminated. But nobody really knows for sure. The girls who succumb are all older than Toni by a couple of years. Is it a ritual of adolescence? Is it symbolic of "becoming a woman"? Are the "fits" ominous or are they an important rite of passage? Director Holmer, who also wrote the script, doesn't say. "The Fits" is not a film that is easily classified into a nice little genre box. There are sequences that are truly scary, other sequences that are lighthearted.

The attention-getting visual and aural style of the film is one of its strengths. Cinematographer Paul Yee films this strange story in a manner appropriate to the form of the narrative. The community center is filmed like an endlessly vast world, the white walls dazzling and disorienting, girls shrieking with joy up the ramps, the boys locked off in their own hermetically-sealed boxing-gym, the girls' empty locker room and bathroom stalls mysterious spaces where voices echo or the sound drops out. A little girl bounces a basketball against the gym wall, dwarfed by the space around her. Toni stands in the middle of the emptied-out swimming pool, staring at the emptiness of her once-familiar world. Toni and a friend try on their sparkly Lioness costumes and cavort through the community center after-hours, giggling and twirling through the darkness like glittering fairies. Any girl who hasn't had "the fits" yet wonders when her time will come, or why her time hasn't come yet. Girls who have been initiated into "the fits" compare notes: "What was yours like? Mine was like this." The score, by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, adds to the sense of creepy dislocation, time standing still, or at least slowed down.

What mysterious and powerful creatures are adolescent girls. It's a foreign landscape to Toni, intimidating and yet compelling. Maybe Toni, with her unblinking gaze, understands that "fits" are part of being a girl, and she's now ready to take that leap. It's not clear. Nor should it be. "The Fits" is extremely insightful about that perilous time in a girl's life when she is still a child but, because of her body's natural processes, won't be for much longer. Things like menstruation and breast development happen whether a young girl is ready for growing up or not. It can be traumatic because inside she is still a little kid. Toni is comfortable in the boys' world, and Royalty Hightower is totally believable as a young and competent athlete. She moves through the girls' world like a ghost, or maybe it's the Lionesses who are the ghosts. Whether she's ready or not, Toni is about to be a part of it.

Except then the older dancers start to suffer a mysterious ailment, one that sends them falling to the floor in gasps and shivers, one that's rumored to be caused by some sort of pathogen in the water. (These are the "fits" of the title.) And instead of giving Toni a sense of belonging, the troupe, through no fault of its own, starts to feel just a little bit sinister.

If that description makes The Fits sound like a mystery where Toni will have to uncover the truth about what's happening to her fellow dancers, well, I can see where you might expect as much. But the exact cause and meaning of the fits are almost completely incidental. The film makes no real attempt to explain its title malady or what's causing it; its primary importance is as metaphor.

The fits stand in, variously, for puberty, or for sexuality, or for mortality. They're the fact that adolescence marks an enormously exciting time in a person's life, but also an enormously isolating and horrifying one. If you wanted to, you could even strain to read them as a commentary on the Flint water crisis. (Though considering the film was made well before Flint entered the headlines, you'd really have to strain.)

I realize that saying The Fits never bothers to clearly explain the mystery behind the fits is going to give many people the impression that I'm panning the film. But I think the weakest thing The Fits could do would be to force some sort of answer into the proceedings. A lot of adolescence is a weird mystery that you have to live through, and even after you reach adulthood it remains difficult to understand. The Fits just places all of that in an external context.

Another one of those eerie mood pieces with a central metaphor that feels like more of a jumping-off point than a core idea. Still there's a lot of patience and formal control holding it all up, particularly in the way the girls' routines mirror the actual fits. Wish it was only about 20 minutes long.

but, honestly, those observations are kinda perfunctory because primarily what the fits is most accomplished at is emphasizing, without cliché or melodrama, the immovable paradox of dancing (and of growing up): fit in, and stand out.

And the same goes for "the fits," a sickness that's clearly more metaphorical than physical. Like the fake demonic possession in The Crucible, or the supposed Satanic rituals in Caryn Waechter's modern update, The Sisterhood Of Night, the fits have an eerie power over the Lionesses, as member after member succumbs to convulsions and hospitalization. And like those previous cinematic hysterical conditions, the fits only affect girls, and they seem to be passed from victim to victim through suggestion, dread, stress, and a need for recognition and validation. When survivors return to the community center to discuss their experiences, and the strange, comforting pleasure the fits bring them, viewers who grew up in female-dominated social circles will certainly recognize the way girls talk about their first periods, kisses, or sexual experiences. Like these rites of passage, the fits become about in-groups and out-groups, about who's experienced them and who hasn't.

They also become a coded way of talking about orgasm. The fits are only described in subjective, abstract terms. They take each girl differently, and they spread in spite of adults' baffled efforts to contain, control, or define them. And they strike the older girls first, with the younger ones looking on with jealousy or horror. Toni in particular wants nothing to do with them. And it's easy to see in her refusal a desire to not grow up, to not make a definitive decision between her two worlds, to not become one of the highly feminized teenagers who run the Lionesses in a swirl of tight clothes, elaborate hairdos, and brassy attitudes. It's also easy to see in Holmer's hallucinogenic images a delight in sensuality and physical experience that goes beyond the petty boy / girl mating rituals the Lionesses discuss in their locker room.

Parents need to know that The Fits is a low-budget indie drama that focuses on an 11-year-old girl. Although it tackles themes related to fitting in and doesn't have a lot of clearly iffy material, it's presented in a fairly grown-up way that makes it more appropriate for teens and up. It has a moody, dreamy feel and unsettling, unexplained elements -- i.e. the "fits" of the title, which refer to unexplained seizures and/or fainting spells that are startling and upsetting. There are also scenes set in a boxing gym in which boys punch each other, leading to bloody mouths and noses and vomiting. Language includes a use of "bitch," but otherwise nothing is stronger than "dang." A background conversation about a boyfriend possibly suggests a teen pregnancy, though nothing is overtly mentioned.

In THE FITS, eleven-year-old Toni (Royalty Hightower) spends her days helping her older brother, Jermaine (Da'Sean Minor), at the gym where he works training boxers. She also takes lessons from him and has already built up some muscle and a fearsome jab. But as Toni peeks through the window to the studio next door, she realizes she wants to sign up for the girls' dance group. At first she doesn't fit in; her tomboy looks don't match the appearance of the pretty, made-up older girls, who talk about their boyfriends in the locker room. Toni tries wearing earrings and nail polish but becomes alarmed when the girls in the troupe start suffering strange seizures. No one knows what's causing these fits, but before long they begin to have an unexpected effect. 041b061a72


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