Directed by Anna Rose Holmer
Opens June 3 at the Metrograph
A boxer decides she wants to try dance: How has this not yet been the plot of a Step Up movie? Even if it had been, though, The Fits makes the story its own. Technically, Toni (Royalty Hightower) isn’t quite a boxer; she’s a tween girl who helps out her brother at the local gym, and gets some fight training along the way. But her eye catches the large dance troupe practices in the next gymnasium over, and soon she’s exploring new methods of physical self-expression and making new friends.
The Fits is not about Toni learning complicated routines en route to a big, final dance-off competition, but it does focus intently on her practicing. The writer-director, Anna Rose Holmer, shoots Toni’s first group practice head on, without the instructors shown on screen, only heard. She also captures Toni practicing on her own, doing jumping jacks on a damp overpass as the camera drifts toward her. The Fits isn’t afraid to linger quietly; it’s about ten minutes before it gets into its first substantial, extended dialogue scene, and has plenty more sequences focusing on dance moves. For Toni, those aren’t always precise—she’s still learning—but the filmmaking has real poetry. That’s true even when no one is dancing, as when the camera surveys the aftermath of a wrecked girls’ locker room post-changing, and then cuts to the boys from the boxing gym descending on a pizza.
This fluid quality helps the movie ease into more mysterious territory. I’m not sure if Holmer was directly inspired by the undiagnosed fainting spells that plagued teenage girls in upstate New York, but something similar starts to happen to Toni’s fellow dancers, especially the older kids. No one knows exactly what to do, or even if the fits that ripple through the crew are a curse or a blessing. Change is coming, that much seems sure. The Fits runs only 72 minutes, which is just right. The kid acting is more endearing than really great, but Holmer provides such beautiful context that it doesn’t really matter. This movie casts a spell, keeping its feet on the ground until it doesn’t.