The (Other) iTunes $0.99 Movie of the Week: ‘The Fits’

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Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard-earned dollar.

Ok, the main event this week is the “based on true events” saga The Infiltrator. It stars Bryan Cranston as an undercover customs agent assigned to … wait for it … infiltrate Pablo Escobar’s Medellín drug cartel and bring it down from the inside. It’s a good movie with solid performances and a dynamite original score. But odds are you’ve seen a dozen movies just like it over the years. Sadly, The Infiltrator doesn’t bring much new to the table. That’s ok, ’cause the folks at iTunes always feature a little seen indie for the same low price. So …

This week, a tough-as-nails tomboy joins the dance team and learns the price of acceptance in The Fits.

I Saw You Dancin’ Earlier

Toni (Royalty Hightower) is not like other girls. She quiet. She’s introspective. And she spends most of her time at the rec center sparring with her older brother in the boxing ring. That all changes when she stumbles across the local dance troupe practicing a few doors away. Captivated by the bold, communal spirit of the dancers, Toni decides to join up and do whatever it takes to fit in. That prospect takes on a dangerous edge of mystery when girls start experiencing convulsive seizures in Anna Rose Holmer’s stunning coming-of-age drama The Fits.

The fits

You Know It’s Gonna Happen To Us

Okay, the term ‘coming-of-age drama’ feels a bit trite there. It just doesn’t convey what a strange and lovely little film The Fits is. Yes, The Fits is a coming-of-age drama. But it doesn’t exactly focus on ‘coming-of-age’. It’s sort of a dance movie. But it isn’t really about dancing. It might qualify as a boxing film too … if it were at all concerned with boxing. It’s also a moody exploration of youth that – at times – feels like a horror movie. But there are no monsters in sight and genuine evil never factors into the equation. More than anything it’s a lyrical journey into the unknown expanse of femininity. And in that context, The Fits is less a story than it is a feeling.

That feeling stems from the wandering psyche of a fiery soul in search of its place in the world. Toni – the young woman at the film’s center – is the epitome of the eternal searcher. We meet the youngster amid a rigorous training session. She does crunches and pull-ups. She spars with her brother. She’s so quiet that she’s almost forgotten by the people around her. And she’s virtually invisible to the young men that populate the gym. But her piercing gaze betrays a rich inner life and a desire to find her place. Once Toni catches sight of the Lioness Dance Troupe, change abounds. Though she doesn’t seem to grasp why she needs it. Or how far she’s willing to go.

She begins with nail polish, pierced ears, and glitzy costumes. But those are just the physical manifestations of change. Toni’s real journey is on the inside. And it’s brought to life in the luminous performance of Royalty Hightower. The gifted young actor has little spoken dialogue throughout The Fits. She spends much of the film staring this way and that … more in wonder than in judgement. Quite often she stares directly into the camera, galvanizing viewers who might feel like they’re invading her every thought. Such is the power of Hightower’s performance that we always know what’s going on inside of her. It’s impossible not to stare back. Impossible not to project our own fears and insecurities onto to her. Impossible not to worry about her. She siphons our empathy like a vampire. And as the film progresses, that stare takes on a near mystical aura.

Credit Writer/Director Anna Rose Holmer for blending the element of grounded surrealism into the gritty realism of her story. The Fits often feels like a daydream or a waking nightmare. Paul Yee’s camera glides in and out and around the action – no matter how silly or how unnerving – like an omnipotent being documenting every moment for a child’s dream journal. Sparse, haunting compositions from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans feed the fevered mysteries behind every impassive glance.

Still, aside from its fantastical – but pitch-perfect – finale, The Fits is fiercely grounded in reality … anchored there by the deeply human performance of its breakout star. It’s a film that lives inside the crumbling walls that Toni builds around herself. It’s most alive in the unexpected moments when she dares to break through … even if she’s just testing the light on the other side. And even if the other side isn’t always where she wants to be. From start to finish The Fits delivers an unforgettable portrait of youth awash in a world of uncertainty. You owe it to yourself to experience that.


Worth It?

You bet it is. Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you I completely understand this film. I’m not sure that’s possible for me. Mostly because I’m a man. And as the film so eloquently establishes – “they’re not like us.” Either way, I’m happy to file The Fits next to the likes of Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) and The Virgin Suicides (1999) as a film that I wholly admire even in my lack of absolute comprehension. What matters most is that I adored every second of this filmYou will too if you give it a chance. At a cost of just $0.99 (and a mere 70-minutes), what’ve you got to lose? Not much. Especially since there’s so much to gain. 

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