Maturation into adulthood can be a complicated thing, filled with worried, regrets, and even crises. For others, it’s as simple as waking up one morning, looking into the mirror and realizing that you’ve changed. In this cerebral drama, it’s a little bit of both. In a beautiful melange of contemporary coming-of-age, modern urban dance, and historic cases of mass psychogenic illness, The Fits gives us something old in a brilliant new way.
Toni (Royalty Hightower) is an 11-year-old tomboy who enjoys boxing and training with her older brother, Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor) at the gym of the local community center. Upon witnessing Toni’s interest when she watches the local dance team, The Lionesses, practice, Jermaine encourages Toni to try out, which she does. Early on, we realize that Toni, though not exactly shy, is quiet and reserved, and though she is not excluded from the other girls, a continuous sense of isolation envelops Toni throughout the film, shrouding it and her with anticipation and mystery.
Toni soon makes friends with two of the other new recruits, Beezy (Alexis Neblett) and Maia (Lauren Gibson), girls her age who are desperate to fit in with The Lionesses and be accepted by the older girls, especially team co-captains Karisma (Inayah Rodgers) and Legs (Makyla Burnam). Soon after the girls join the team, however, Legs and later Karisma both suffer an unprovoked seizure and are hospitalized. “The fits” seem to be contagious, claiming the girls on their team one, but one, starting with the oldest. When Toni tells her brother about these convulsions, he warns her not to start acting like “those girls”, especially Karisma, a statement which piggybacks off of centuries of men belittling the emotional and physical ailments of women as mere “hysteria”.
Pretty soon, Maia starts to get curious about “the fits”, and what they’ll feel like. All of the girls who have had the seizures are fine afterward and seem to bonded closer than ever, members of a secret club whose entry cannot be bought. Toni doesn’t know what she wants. As she clings to the safety and familiarity of childhood, the inescapable pull of adolescence keeps reeling her in.
Beautiful, intriguing, and poetic, The Fits is remarkable, a film that leaves an indelible impression and compels the audience to watch it again and again. With a unseasoned by highly talented cast, Holmer’s debut film breaths much-need life to the coming-of-age sub-genre and shines a beautiful, albeit fragmented, light on Black girlhood and community. I give this one 4 stars.