At first glance, Fitting In may seem like your typical high school coming-of-age story. But writer/director Molly McGlynn infuses this film with raw honesty and emotional depth, touching on universal themes of identity, womanhood, and learning to embrace the skin you’re in.
The film follows Lindy, played with authenticity by Maddie Ziegler, an athletic and bright-eyed 16-year-old eager to lose her virginity to her new crush. But a visit to the gynecologist reveals Lindy has MRKH syndrome – a disorder that leaves her unable to carry a pregnancy or enjoy comfortable penetrative sex.
Stunned, Lindy hides her diagnosis at first, pushing away those closest to her as she grapples internally with its implications. Through thoughtful exchanges and sometimes cringey collisions with those around her, Lindy must reckon with what it means to be a woman on her own terms.
More than a “disease-of-the-week” portrayal, Fitting In tackles messy questions of identity and societal beauty standards with humor and heart. Anchored by Ziegler’s moving lead performance, it’s a film that resonates with the outcast teenage spirit in us all.
Ziegler Shines as Relatable Teen Heroine
As the film’s emotional anchor, Maddie Ziegler turns in a breakout performance that deftly captures the swirling storm of adolescence. She brings heartbreaking authenticity to Lindy, portraying her as a fully-realized teenager – at once confident and fragile, petty and wise beyond her years.
We meet Lindy thirsty for that coveted high school experience, chasing popularity and romance with carefree zeal. But Ziegler lets us see the cracks in Lindy’s self-assurance. In tender scenes with her mother, Ziegler reveals Lindy’s buried insecurities, her unspoken fear that she doesn’t quite fit the mold.
So when her world is upended by the MRKH diagnosis, Ziegler unleashes a gamut of emotions – confusion, shame, white-hot anger. She lashes out in ways both petty and cutting. But Ziegler ensures Lindy remains sympathetic; we feel her sense of isolation, how untethered and scared she is by her changing identity.
In slower scenes, Ziegler’s subtle expressions masterfully telegraph Lindy’s inner journey toward self-acceptance. We watch Lindy’s facade of confidence wrestle with her private moments of vulnerability. It’s a nuanced, introspective performance far beyond Ziegler’s years.
Ziegler’s Lindy reckons with womanhood itself in all its indefinable, imperfect forms. It makes her outburst to reclaim ownership of her own complex femininity truly soar. With honesty and poise, Ziegler makes this heroine’s personal revelation feel triumphantly universal. She is a talent on the rise.
Strong Supporting Turns Provide Depth
While Ziegler undoubtedly carries the film, Fitting In benefits greatly from standout supporting turns, especially from D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai and Emily Hampshire.
As Lindy’s charming love interest Adam, Woon-A-Tai brings empathy and confliction. Determined yet clumsy in his attempts to understand Lindy’s diagnosis, he exudes that all-too-familiar teenage bewilderment over how to support the girl he cares for deeply. We feel his yearning matched by striking moments of helplessness. Woon-A-Tai ensures Adam’s positive masculinity reads as genuine, not heroic fantasy.
Meanwhile, Newfoundland treasure Emily Hampshire leaves her comedic chops behind to craft a tender portrait of resilience as Lindy’s mother Rita. Having faced her own medical trauma with breast cancer, Rita becomes the nurturing guide Lindy both needs and pushes away. Though decades apart in age, Rita and Lindy share the burden of womanhood’s impossible standards. Hampshire’s weathered but resolute maternal presence provides the safe space for Lindy’s eventual unburdening.
Together, Woon-A-Tai and Hampshire represent Lindy’s foremost support network – but also the societal constraints against which she strains. Their grounded, compassionate turns augment Ziegler’s performance to construct a fully-realized coming-of-age. We keenly feel Lindy’s isolation from their orbits of care and concern.
Authentic Lens Informs Resonant Story
As both writer and director, Molly McGlynn steeps Fitting In in personal experience, harnessing her own adolescent journey with MRKH into a wider rumination on the fluid, complex nature of female identity.
McGlynn’s semi-autobiographical lens manifests in small observational touches – awkward gynecology appointments, fumbling attempts at intimacy by well-meaning teenage boys, and especially the alienation perpetuated by an indifferent medical establishment. She pointedly contrasts Lindy’s older male doctors peddling “corrective” procedures with her eventual ally, an androgynous specialist who encourages self-acceptance over conformity.
But McGlynn also demonstrates restraint and nuance befitting her lead actress’ grounded performance. She largely resists speechifying, allowing resonant conversations to breathe. When Lindy finally unleashes an impassioned screed on societal womanhood, her message lands more impactfully for its sparse use.
McGlynn maintains a nimble tonal balance as well, allowing uncomfortable moments to play as cringe humor before pivoting into introspective drama. Refreshingly, she refuses total doom and gloom, crafting small reprieves like a sweet lakeside chat between Lindy and her first real friend. The end result has an honesty that never skews too bleak or sentimental.
Anchored by lived experience, McGlynn translates deeply personal trauma into a wider rumination on the fluid, complex nature of female identity. Both simple and profound, Fitting In derives power from its grounded authenticity.
Examining Womanhood’s Defiant Shapelessness
At its core, Fitting In grapples with the very notion of womanhood itself – how it defies rigid definition despite immense societal pressure to conform. Through Lindy’s journey, McGlynn explores the shame that accompanies “abnormal” female bodies and experiences, challenging viewers to expand their own concepts of female identity.
When Lindy first learns of her MRKH diagnosis, McGlynn pointedly frames it as identity-shattering, with Lindy grieving the sudden loss of a “normal” adolescent trajectory. Desperate to minimize her differences, Lindy attempts to brute-force the heteronormative milestones of womanhood– dating, penetrative sex, even traditional gender expression.
Yet McGlynn quietly undermines these artificial goalposts, depicting multi-dimensional female characters across the spectrum. Rita still views herself as whole despite her mastectomy, while Lindy’s stylish friend Jax represents assimilation versus rigid classification. Through them all, Lindy realizes the futility of forcing herself into any one label – her womanhood must be defined on her own terms.
McGlynn also examines how genuine understanding around intersex conditions remains regrettably scarce. Even sympathetic figures like Lindy’s boyfriend fumble in their desire to “help”. Meanwhile, male medical practitioners coldly dismiss Lindy’s complex feelings about her diagnosis. The film pointedly indicts their archaic attempts to surgically “correct” patients to fit stricter biological norms.
Most resonantly, McGlynn asserts female sexuality as a spectrum, not binary checkpoint. Although lacking typical reproductive organs, Lindy nonetheless experiences desire, intimacy and love. Her eventual self-acceptance lies in embracing womanhood’s innate diversity across all its biological and social permutations.
At once personal and political, Fitting In argues compellingly for the boundless potential of womanhood to take shape through each individual woman’s defiant agency. Simply put, it cannot be narrowly defined except by those living it fully.
Authenticity Outweighs Occasional Tonal Missteps
At its best, Fitting In feels grounded in truth – from Ziegler’s anguished performance to McGlynn’s clear-eyed perspective on navigating womanhood’s gray areas. Refreshingly, it largely avoids portraying Lindy’s journey through a narrow tragic lens, allowing glimmers of humor alongside hardship.
That said, the film’s tonal balance isn’t always graceful. Certain scenes meant to provide comic relief feel jarringly glib, especially a goofy lakeside chat undercutting the trauma of Lindy’s recent breakup. Additionally, while Emily Hampshire is an undeniable talent, she feels miscast as Lindy’s mother, unable to bridge their real-life age difference despite ample skills.
Tonally, Lindy’s climactic public speech also feels somewhat out of step with the film’s restrained essence. While cathartic, an impassioned monologue risks over-simplifying Fitting In’s nuanced exploration of female identity in favor of unambiguous messaging.
Yet these flaws prove minor against the film’s emotional honesty and care. Anchored in one woman’s real-life experience, Fitting In resists portraying Lindy’s journey reductively. Instead, it leaves room for awkwardness, anger and uncertainty alongside empathy, never forcing resolution but rather resonating in the continued struggle of simply fitting in one’s own skin. For Ziegler’s stellar breakout turn alone, it deserves applause.
A Touching Portrait of Self-Acceptance
Anchored by Maddie Ziegler’s breakout performance, Fitting In tackles messy questions of identity and societal beauty standards with humor and heart. It’s a film that cuts to the core of the adolescent experience while speaking to life’s uncomfortable transitions at any age.
At times awkward, cringe-worthy and undeniably moving, Lindy’s journey mirrors our own desire to be accepted as we are. Though some elements feel miscalibrated, the film’s emotional honesty outweighs its minor tonal pitfalls.
Ultimately, Fitting In heralds the diverse, indefinable potential of womanhood through a heroine’s act of defiant self-reclamation. It’s a rare coming-of-age portrait told from within the storm itself, resonant for anyone still learning to embrace their own skin.
Smart and disarmingly timely, Fitting In deserves to find its audience among thoughtful moviegoers of any gender seeking inspiring realism. And with captivating vulnerability, Ziegler proves herself a star capable of elevating any story she inhabits. We’ll be eagerly watching where she fits in next.
Fitting In presents a poignant, stigma-defying portrait of adolescent female identity, anchored by Maddie Ziegler’s breakout lead performance. Though its reach occasionally exceeds its grasp, writer/director Molly McGlynn largely grounds this coming-of-age journey with refreshing honesty and insight. As a rare film exploring the complexities of intersex issues through an accessible lens, Fitting In heralds the defiant shapelessness of womanhood. It argues that we alone can define our skin, imperfections and all.
- Powerful lead performance by Maddie Ziegler
- Authentic perspective and direction by Molly McGlynn
- Thoughtful examination of complex themes related to female identity and societal pressures
- Strong supporting cast with empathy and emotional depth
- Moments of humor balance serious subject matter
- Honest portrayal of a little-known disorder
- Uneven tonal shifts, some attempts at comedy fall flat
- Emily Hampshire feels miscast as Lindy's mother
- Climactic speech feels somewhat out of step with restrained tone
- Complex ideas could benefit from more nuance in places