There is nothing quite like The Fits, so describing it is difficult without you having seen it first. But the bare bones are that an adolescent girl named Toni (Royalty Hightower, whose name is unfathomably cool) who is into boxing begins to take an interest in less tomboyish pursuits, like joining the community dance team. She starts to push away from hanging out with her older brother, Maine (Da'Sean Minor), and his friends in favor of practicing with the older girls, who lead the team in aggressive choreography, which may remind Toni of the confrontational nature of boxing. Toni is an intense, taciturn individual who works tirelessly towards mastering her new athletic choice, despite lacking the innate talent for dance that she clearly possesses for boxing. The other girls are predictably catty and high on tough love, but when Toni just starts to feel like she is getting the hang of this new crowd, the older girls start having seizures, or something like it.
That's all I'll get into regarding the plot of this film, which sounds more whimsical than writer-director Anna Rose Holmer's deadpan approach actually presents. Despite the film's centering on teenagers, there is a surprising dearth of dialogue. A lot of this can be attributed to the story being filtered entirely through Toni's point-of-view. She is in nearly every shot of this film and so we are permanently in her presence and headspace. Toni, being the quiet girl she is, spends much of her time alone, even going so far as to literally go separate ways with the other characters and to move at her own, slower pace. You might say that Toni marches to the beat of her own drum, but that suggests she is a weirdo. She isn't; she's just in her own head and too focused on doing her own thing. When another character tells her and the other young girls new to the dance team to stop thinking as an individual and more as part of a team, it's the closest Holmer comes to making a statement of purpose.
It's that sort of ambiguity that may turn off a lot of viewers, and likely proved to be the film's financial undoing. Once the characters start experiencing the "fits" alluded to in the title, Holmer shows her disinterest in revealing what she has on her mind. Are the fits connected to puberty? Maybe: one of the younger girls calls them the "boyfriend disease." But then other girls who are too young for boys start experiencing the same problem. My wife seems to think that the name of the disorder, "fits," is Holmer tipping her hand as to the community nature of the illness. Once some of the more popular girls have the fits, the other ones follow suit, to the point that the younger, less popular ones feel left out and can't wait until they get the fits themselves, which they inevitably do.
Anyone's guess is as good as ours—Holmer's not telling. And that's why I love this movie so much. It's odd, very brief at only 72 minutes and terribly focused on its one story, not unlike Toni herself. The percussive, eerie sound design keeps you on edge, as does the incongruous, plaintive score. You end up in a strange, foggy state of mind while watching The Fits. Not many movies have had such a hold on me this year, try as they might.