The thin plot is nowhere near the top of the pleasures of The Fits. Holmer and cinematographer Paul Yee, also in his feature debut, make their film into a painterly masterpiece, as beautiful in its framing as anything from DP's and directors with long resumes. The symmetry of the shots is primal in its appeal, many possessing a technical expertise that mirrors the onscreen pursuits. Both gyms are concerned with getting minute motions correct, and the film that contains them shares that perfectionism. The order on the screen is given an appealing counterpoint in the score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. Where the frame is meticulously arranged and crafted, the score it's often paired with is a nervy mix of claps, horns, and strings.
Within those frames and against that score is a dominating physical performance by Hightower, yet another debut in a film that provides several names to watch. Often shot in close-up, she is a magnetic and mostly silent presence, gradually opening up as the film continues. She's vitally believable as a beginner dancer, which makes her progression towards competence as invigorating for the viewer as it is for her. A scene on a pedestrian overpass where she, alone, moves from calisthenics to throwing punches to her dance routine to throwing it all together in a grabbag of what she's learned is one of the best scenes of 2016, with Toni's long braids snapping around her head and a growing smile that screams to the world, "I can fucking do this." This unbroken shot is indicative of Hightower's confidence and presence throughout, eminently watchable in ecstatic joy or sullen disenchantment.
The happenings around Toni, where all, and only, the girls gradually experience a fit but her, make up a straightforward coming of age tale with a potent metaphor undergirding it. There are few lasting effects beyond the sense of initiation that comes along with it, one more barrier for natural outsider Toni to overcome. The Fits is packed with visual references to belonging and unbelonging, from temporary tattoos to the name of the dance troupe itself (lionesses). I'm noticing that films where kids first don't fit in and then manage to find their people is something that inherently works on me. Holmer is right in my strike zone with The Fits, but even without that advantage, any fan of cinema would appreciate the transcendent nature of this film. A