THE STORY – The story centers around 16-year-old Lindy who is diagnosed with a reproductive condition, MRKH syndrome. The diagnosis upsets her understanding of womanhood and sexual identity, and throws her relationships with her new boyfriend, her friends at her new high school, and her mother into disarray.
THE CAST – Maddie Ziegler, Emily Hampshire, Djouliet Amara, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai & Ki Griffin
THE TEAM – Molly McGlynn (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 104 Minutes
If you think of coming-of-age films centering on teenage boys, there’s more often than not a very embarrassing scene used for laughs involving masturbation and the parents walking in. Very seldom does this happen when the main character is a teenage girl. But writer-director Molly McGlynn immediately tackles the taboo. Opening the film is not only a quote from “Jennifer’s Body” – “Hell is a teenage girl” – but also a scene with protagonist Lindy (Maddie Ziegler) masturbating. “Fitting In” distinguishes itself from the get-go, making the audience aware that they’re in for not just any film about the woes of teenage girldom. This teen’s journey to self-acceptance is very contrary to its title, as it doesn’t want to fit into any mold, tackling women’s health issues that are rare to hear about, both on-screen and off.
“Fitting In” captures a very relatable image of being a teenage girl, as Lindy and her best friend, Vivian (Djouliet Amara), together or apart, fantasize about their crushes, talk about sex and watch porn as research. While they can relate to many of the same things, they share one big difference: one has their period, and the other does not. Being sixteen and not having blood accidentally come through your shorts during gym class doesn’t feel right. Lindy knows something is off, but instead of telling her friend the truth, she pretends everything is normal. It’s common at that age to pretend to know more than we do or pretend to have experiences that we haven’t yet, like sex. Lindy hasn’t had that either, but when her crush, Adam (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), asks her if she’s had sex before, she feels pressured to say yes; pretending again out of embarrassment. If you’re sixteen and haven’t had sex yet, some invisible clock makes you feel like you’re a loser the longer it keeps on ticking. If you’re sixteen and haven’t had your period yet, the clock becomes visible.
Teenagers want to be anything but labeled a “freak,” and after undergoing various tests, Lindy sure feels like one. She learns that having sex is going to become even more complicated for her because, well, she has an underdeveloped vagina. Diagnosed with a rare congenital disorder affecting her reproductive system, her expectation of experiencing things that “normal” women do comes crashing down, and she just wants to scream into a pillow. McGlynn captures internal and external struggles of being a woman that hasn’t been explored before, and Ziegler stuns in her emotional performance. It’s a turn that’s quite harrowing at times because of all the pain, physical and emotional, you see Lindy going through. It’s also admirably controlled so that you can feel the internal heartache over this deep betrayal by her own body. During a scary moment at the gynecologist, Lindy looks over, with tears coming down the side of her face, at a female resident for comfort. But Lindy’s about to be diagnosed with something that probably all women she comes across in her life don’t have, leading her to explore sex and sexuality in a new way.
Lindy couldn’t deal with such a big, life-changing revelation without the relationships that surround her. The film is just as much about those relationships as it is about Lindy learning to live with her diagnosis. There’s a strong female friendship at the film’s center. Vivian showcases unwavering support and an absence of judgment towards Lindy, creating a very feel-good experience. There’s also a charming relationship that forms between Lindy and Jax (Ki Griffin), an intersex schoolmate, who opens her eyes to and helps her accept the differences in her anatomy. However, the relationship that complements Lindy the most in terms of her experience is the one she shares with her mother, Rita (Emily Hampshire). Not only is it lovely to see a mother and daughter be so open with one another, but one who can relate to her daughter through this difficult journey. Having undergone a mastectomy, Rita knows what it’s like to be “deformed” in the eyes of society. She also knows what it’s like to fear unacceptance. It’s difficult not being able to fit the checklist of what a “perfect” woman is, but they’re beautifully imperfect together.
Being a woman, being a teenage girl, is bloody hell. You either don’t have enough of this or too much of that. There’s constant criticism at every turn, but “Fitting In” points the middle finger at it. As Lindy calls out the very narrow views about sex in a “hell yeah!” monologue, McGlynn does the same with a script that challenges the idea of the gender binary. What’s normal? What even is a “woman?” In Lindy’s journey to loving and accepting herself despite her different anatomy, the film becomes more than just about a teenage girl. It’s a queer story and one where being at peace with yourself is possible.