Director Interview: Molly McGlynn on FITTING IN

Nearly eleven months after its world premiere at SXSW 2023, Molly McGlynn’s newest feature FITTING IN opens in theaters today. (The film premiered under its previous title BLOODY HELL.) The indie feature, which boasts Janelle Monae as an Executive Producer, stars actor/dancer Maddie Ziegler as Lindy, a teenager diagnosed with a rare condition known as MRKH syndrome. Named for the four male physicians who first diagnosed it, the congenital condition is marked by incomplete development of the female reproductive tract and is often discovered by teenagers who have yet to menstruate by late adolescence.

FITTING IN was a 2023 Toronto International Film Festival official selection, and was the inaugural film spotlighted by the Sloan Science on Film Showcase, a component of Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s partnership with Toronto International Film Festival, launched in 2023.

Ahead of the film’s release, we spoke with writer/director Molly McGlynn about her personal experience being diagnosed with MRKH, updating the story for Gen Z and how the dialogue around MRKH has changed over the past two decades.

Sloan Science & Film: I understand the film is inspired by your own experience with MRKH. Why did you want to tell this story now?

Molly McGlynn: I was diagnosed with MRKH syndrome when I was 16 years old, over 20 years ago. I always knew that because I'm a filmmaker who had this really specific experience, I had to tell the story at some point but [it] scared the shit out of me. It was always, ‘One day, one day, one day, I'll get the nerve to do it.’ I knew I only had one shot, so I wanted to make sure that I was ready to tackle it.

I made a feature that came out in 2017 called MARY GOES ROUND and had directed a lot of television, so I felt like my chops as a director had strengthened. It was just a feeling in my gut, especially during the pandemic when I think we all had reckonings about what's important and what kind of work we want to make. I'm like, ‘This could all go tomorrow. What do you want to say?’

S&F: The scenes in which Lindy interacts with doctors are very evocative. They convey how heavily bedside manner and use of medical terminology can impact the personal experience of a diagnosis. Can you speak about how the language around MRKH has impacted you and how it's changed over the past 20 years?

MM: At the time I was diagnosed, the bedside manner was extremely lacking, and a lot of the terminology emphasized a lack or a problem to be corrected. None of our bodies are problems to be corrected. There didn't seem to be a lot of choice. It was, ‘Here is the issue. Here are some dilators so you can have sex, presumably with a man.’ I’ve experienced a lot of presumption. I hope now, having had conversations with people in the medical field who have seen the film, there’s progress in terms of presenting someone with options of things to do. And crucially, that you don't have to do anything. I hope that medical professionals look at the emotional and psychological well-being of a patient before pushing them to do very invasive treatment, surgical or manual. Culturally, we're always in correction mode instead of acceptance mode. The patient is a whole person. It's just not a body.

S&F: I am curious about how shifting this story 20 years ahead meant accounting for Gen Z’s very different relationship with technology. Lindy has the opportunity to poke around the internet and research her condition before sharing it with her loved ones, for instance. She learns about Jax [KI Griffin] from their YouTube videos before they bond in real life.

MM: Initially I did want to make it, no pun intended, a period film and set it in the 2000s. It's expensive to do that though. You must acknowledge the role of technology and social media in a contemporary film about teenagers, but I didn't want it to be overwhelming.

S&F: Given your own knowledge about the subject, did you choose to work with any consultants, medical or otherwise?

MM: I consulted with intersex organizations and MRKH organizations, which read drafts of the script and gave feedback. Much is from my own experience and research, but I wanted to make sure it was accurate.

S&F: Though Lindy’s condition is very rare, you tap into several themes universal to that stage of life. Do you see this as a coming-of-age film?

MM: Even though this is about my experience in my body, I think anyone who has a body at some point has felt like it is not doing what they want. Or it's different than that of other people and you're insecure about that. Anyone can relate to that on an emotional level.

S&F: Have any audience reactions surprised or delighted you since the film began playing at festivals?

MM: It's been wild. I’ve had a range. Gynecologists, teachers, young Gen Z folks. After TIFF, this young woman sent me a long, beautiful message saying she came to the movie with ‘her Jax' and they’d never seen their friendship on screen before. That really moved me. This chic woman in her 70s came up to me wearing a Chanel suit and said she found it fabulous because these things weren’t talked about in her day.

It's a different experience, but a man who looked to be someone’s dad said he didn't really know what to expect but he thought it was a great and he’d tell his friends to watch it. I said, ‘Sir, I really appreciate that because so much focus is on the personal experience and being a female filmmaker, I worry that what I've crafted will be interpreted as a ‘Dear Diary’ entry as opposed to something that a lot of people put thought and craft behind.’ That guy just made my day.

S&F: I hope that you hear from many more like him on February 2nd when the film is out. Anything else you’d like to share with our readers before we conclude?

MM: Yes. This is an indie film and I want to encourage people to see it, not because I want them to see it, but because when you go and support a film, money talks. If you believe that stories from perspectives you haven't seen before need to be told, you need to support those films. It's not just for me, but for other people too.

More from Sloan Science and Film: