Being a teenage girl is traumatizing, as cinema has underscored time and time again. But for Lindy (Maddie Ziegler), surviving high school isn’t as simple as navigating the ups and downs of puberty and self-consciousness. The 16-year-old protagonist of Molly McGlynn’s thoughtful Fitting In finds herself diagnosed with MRKH syndrome, a reproductive disorder that results in a small or absent uterus and a shortened vagina. Lindy wants what all teen girls want: romance, acceptance, and to lose her virginity, which she tries to do with a hunky classmate named Adam (Reservation Dogs’ D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai). But her diagnosis comes with shameful baggage and at first Lindy hides it, breaking up with Adam in the process.
FITTING IN ★★★ (3/4 stars)
Fitting In, which was inspired by McGlynn’s own experience with MRKH, is a sweet coming-of-age story that doesn’t sugarcoat the complicated nature of Lindy’s struggles. It examines preconceptions of gender and sex with frank warmth, and Ziegler’s considered performance is open-minded and unafraid, especially when scenes call for her to confront her sexual shortcomings. Djouliet Amara is equally compelling as Vivian, Lindy’s best friend who feigns confidence in a way that will be relatable to many teenage viewers.
Less successful is Emily Hampshire, best known Stevie on Schitt’s Creek. Hampshire plays Lindy’s mom, who parents her teenage daughter solo and has dealt with her own emotional medical crisis. At 42, Hampshire certainly could have a teen, but here it doesn’t register as true and her suburban mom haircut only adds to the disconnect. As Lindy, Zeigler is nuanced and genuine, imbuing the character with empathy and realism in a way that is unexpectedly impressive. Hampshire feels miscast and out of place, which doesn’t serve the story or augment the relationship between mother and daughter in the way it should.
At the core of Fitting In is a conversation about what it means to be yourself. In an age of social media, when every revelation or public meltdown is broadcast, how does one find the confidence to embrace who they are? It’s a question everyone in the film is asking—and attempting to answer—and it’s one that McGlynn also poses to the viewer. Lindy’s condition is embarrassing, for good reason, but she finds liberation when she accepts herself, instead of expecting others to do it for her. McGlynn uses the film as a vehicle to examine what it means to be a woman, both as a teenage and in general, and some of the most impactful scenes are those where Lindy interacts with male doctors, who treat her as an object.
Although Fitting In, which originally premiered at SXSW last year under the title Bloody Hell, may seem like a small independent film, it grapples with these greater issues in a way that makes it seem more expansive. McGlynn clearly knows that the personal is universal and she’s channeled her own story into a drama is entertaining, sincere, and sometimes uncomfortable. It urges direct discussions about sexuality and reproductive health, and serves to destigmatize a disorder that may be unfamiliar to many. It may seem niche from the description and the trailer, but Fitting In hits a lot of broadly recognizable notes.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.