It Felt Like Love would be a terrible movie in the wrong hands. It’s the story of a teenage girl, whose age is unspecified, and her burgeoning sexuality.
Eliza Hittman’s feature length directorial debut, which she also wrote, has the right hands for the material; mostly. Via a moving, quiet performance by Gina Piersanti as the teenager Lila, Hittman gives us the female gaze of a not-yet young woman, a decided contrast to your standard lusting male gaze. Piersanti’s character follows around her best friend Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni) from place to place in New York City as a third wheel. As Chiara and her boyfriend make-out on the beach, hold hands and discuss their recent sexual activity, Lila is kind of a sad puppy-dog following them and unsure on how to join in on the fun. Lila, and Hittman’s camera via her, darts her eyes onto the bare chests and abs of older boys.
Lila knows that she wants to have experience of an adult woman and the only way her virginal self knows how to do it is to lie. She tells friends, strangers and her neighbor about all of the different men she’s been with, as if the statement would make it so and, thus, give her the confidence she desires.
It Felt Like Love is most compelling when it focuses on Lila and those she’s close to, from Chiara to her uninterested father. These moments are a fresh perspective on the teenager trying to have sex for the first time, which tends to be more often than not be about gangly 18 year-old boys wanting to get with the school’s hottest chick. Hittman’s movie lingers in the awkwardness of lazy summer days where you’re the only one without a romantic partner.
The rest of the film isn’t as strong. Much of the back-half is about Lila forcing herself into the life of a guy past high school. It’s kind of intriguing to see her desperation and the ways she manipulates situations. However, the tone is a bit intimidating. By no means does it turn into an after-school special, yet there’s a whiff of the dangers of a woman’s sexuality. Where the male version is about the wackiness of getting laid, the female version is about the danger. It isn’t that these incidents can’t occur, but that they lack the nuance or insight of the surrounding picture.