3 ½ stars
According to dictionary.com, an auteur is “a filmmaker whose personal influence and artistic control over a movie are so great that the filmmaker is regarded as the author of the movie.” The site’s examples run the gamut from John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock to Spike Lee and Tim Burton.
The next time they update the list, they should consider adding Molly McGlynn, writer/director of Fitting In, one of the most personal – yet incredibly accessible – films of the last decade.
The film stars Maddie Ziegler (West Side Story) as Lindy, a 16-year-old girl who is diagnosed with a reproductive condition called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) Syndrome, which means she has an underdeveloped vagina and uterus. According to the press notes, it’s a semi-autobiographical feature, probably the source of the passion McGlynn pours into every scene in the film. Fitting In, however, is more than a cinematic confessional or educational movie (although both elements exist). There is something magical about the style of the film that pulls you in to experience what Lindy is going through in a very personal way that has nothing to do with any direct experience you may have with MRKH, be it personal, a family member, or a friend. Even if you know nothing about the condition up to the scene where Lindy gets her diagnosis in the movie, McGlynn makes you feel part of the story to an astonishing degree.
Ziegler’s bravura performance effectively anchors Fitting In. Considering all that Lindy goes through in the movie, the temptation to overact seems to loom just outside the edge of the film. But Ziegler never gives in to it. Instead, she gives us a character that is brave yet terrified, vulnerable but strong, and empathetic when she has every right to be self-centered and self-pitying. Above all, there’s an honesty to Ziegler’s work that will take your breath away.
The rest of the cast, with the notable exception of the men, all rise to the level set by Ziegler. Emily Hampshire (Schitt’s Creek) is excellent as Lindy’s mom, Rita. She finds the right balance between protecting her child from the world and fighting to find who she is beyond just a single mom of a teenage daughter. Djouliet Amara is good, too, as Lindy’s best friend, Vivian.
The men in Fitting In are underwritten, underdeveloped, and, in the end, unmemorable. That’s not necessarily bad because it’s such a personal, female-driven story, but having the men (boys) be more than cardboard cutouts could have added some depth to it all.
Although it is an impressive feature in many ways, Fitting In has one hurdle it never clears. The movie is set in high school, and the characters (except Rita) are all supposed to be 16, yet all of them look and, unfortunately, act like they’re in their early to late 20s. Which they are. It may not be true to the semi-autobiographical nature of McGlynn’s story, but Fitting In could have benefited by being told in a more age-appropriate setting, like the first year of college. The issues raised would have been just as essential to explore, the female characters more substantial. And the men just as ignorant.