By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco.
A scrappy and big-hearted brawler of a film, but one without any real fighting spirit or punching power (OK, that’s enough with the boxing metaphors).
First-timer Holmer helms this half-gnawed fingernail of a narrative about Toni (newcomer Royalty Hightower), a taciturn and determined young girl who trains in a Cincinnati boxing gym with her older brother. Toni harbors a powerful desire to slide over to the dance class next door, but when she tries out for the troupe, the mean-girl dancers start suffering inexplicable seizures, and a good deal of circumstantial evidence points back to our protagonist.
The Fits is getting positioned as a breakout role for 10-year-old star Hightower, and she certainly has a strong screen presence, steely and magnetic from the moment she starts counting out sit-ups. However, Holmer’s trendy disaffection leaves Hightower and the rest of this largely amateur cast without much to do. Instead of character development, we get scores of shots of people squinting into the sun and staring into mirrors, while Holmer leaves the viewer to fill in the blanks.
Honestly, I’m just completely over this wishy-washy, “impressionistic,” Ain’t Them Bodies Saints shit. I liked some of the Son of Lubezki camera moves, and a cool final musical number saves The Fits from the Dump-yard. Otherwise, this 72-minute film feels strangely padded.