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TIFF 2023: A rare diagnosis is a source of pain and joy in director Molly McGlynn’s ‘Fitting In’

Molly McGlynn always knew she was going to make a movie based on her experience with a reproductive disorder that changed her life in “unimaginable ways.”

But the Montreal-born filmmaker first wanted to get her “sea legs” in the industry by working on other projects.

After making several short films and her 2017 feature debut, “Mary Goes Round,” McGlynn is ready to present the deeply personal “Fitting In” at the Toronto International Film Festival this week. The movie, shot in Sudbury, Ont., stars American dance phenom-turned-actress Maddie Ziegler as a teen whose exploration of identity and sexual pleasure is upended by a rare diagnosis.

“Emotional stakes feel really high with this one,” McGlynn said in a recent video call, noting that although the movie tackles a difficult and complex topic, it’s still joyful and comedic.

The film centres on 16-year-old Lindy, who still hasn’t begun menstruating but is excited by the prospect of having sex with her boyfriend and visits a doctor to discuss birth control. A routine pelvic exam turns into shock as the male physician informs her that she has Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome, which means she has no uterus and her vagina is not properly developed.

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The realization throws Lindy into a tailspin as she tries to figure out womanhood, sexuality and relationships with her friends, intimate partners and mother, played by Canadian actress Emily Hampshire of “Schitt’s Creek” fame.

“Fitting In” uses MRKH syndrome to explore gender identity, sexual autonomy and what McGlynn calls the “absurdity” of body parts to which we often attach too much significance.

Like Lindy, McGlynn was diagnosed with MRKH as a teenager and says the condition has been a source of “tremendous pain and loss,” although she is quick to note that she leads a healthy and happy life.

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Among the many questions she’s carried with her over the years – and tries to unpack in the film – are: what makes a woman? What is sex? What is gender?

Given the themes of the movie, McGlynn said it was fitting to have 20-year-old Ziegler claim her own “autonomy and space” in this role, since she has been in the limelight and “sort of commodified” from an early age.

As a child Ziegler appeared on the Lifetime reality series “Dance Moms” and starred in several music videos for the pop singer Sia.

The director said she felt a “soul connection” with the actress from the start and “trusted her implicitly” to convey such a personal story.

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The movie, which premiered in the U.S. earlier this year at the SXSW Festival with its original title “Bloody Hell,” is “about the messiness of identities,” McGlynn said.

“Identity is not as easy as checking a box for all of us … And ultimately, you’re the only person who gets to say what you are in the world.”

&© 2023 The Canadian Press

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