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It Felt Like Love – Review


Release Date: 21 March 2014 [USA]
Director: Eliza Hittman
Writer: Eliza Hittman
Cast: Gina Piersanti - Giovanna Salimeni - Ronen Rubinstein - Jesse Cordasco



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Posted December 6, 2014 by

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It Felt Like Love Review:

Eliza Hittman accomplishes something fairly remarkable in her coming-of-age story It Felt Like Love, and it is all the more remarkable because for more than half the movie, it doesn’t feel like she will be able to do it. She, with a lot of help from her young star Gina Piersanti, presents us with a totally believable teen-age girl, encountering some serious growing pains. Movie teens generally come from one of two camps. In more mainstream movies, they tend to be overly precious. In the rough, tough world of the Indie, they tend to be amoral monsters. In both, they seem blessed with a purity of insight that their elders lack. There is often a scene in which the kid puts things in perspective in a way that the grown-up can’t.

There is none of that Lila – the character Piersanti plays. I believe she is fifteen, though I’m not sure that her age is ever specified. She is desperate for what she sees as a grown-up relationship. To her, that means sex. After watching her more mature best friend Chiara make out with boy after boy, Lila comes to the conclusion that life is passing her by, and that she cannot wait. She has to make something happen. So she pursues an older boy who shows a modicum of interest. The plot of the movie is mostly concerned with how that pursuit plays out.

But plot is not the strong suit in It Felt Like Love. It is all Lila. For a long time, Lila is hard to like. She is rather sullen, and often petulant. She doesn’t display any great sense of humor or kindness or courage that would get us on her side. Hittman even makes a rather startling decision that represents all that is good about the movie. Lila has a dog. In most movies, there would be a scene early on in which we see Lila playfully interacting with said dog to show what a sweet person she really and truly is. (This, to screenwriters and directors everywhere, is known as a “pet the dog” scene.) But in It Felt Like Love, Lila jokes with her father about euthanizing the dog “for fun.” And this is the girl you want us to care about?

Never fear, the dog remains healthy throughout. And Lila, the more we get to know her, does exhibit humor and kindness and courage, even if only in small doses along the way. She gradually fills in as a girl driven by desperation to manufacture an adult sex life long before she is ready for one. There are several remarkable sequences in It Felt Like Love which begin to unwrap the character. In two of them, she is, by choice, alone with several older boys who engage in crude flirtations that veer off into molestation. Lila does not break down in tears during these encounters, nor does she have some great epiphany about herself and the nature of intimacy. She simply experiences them and moves on. It may well be that twenty years down the road, she will be discussing such events in her therapist’s office, but like most events in our lives, the impact is not understood immediately. The flip side of these scenes is an embarrassing encounter with a physician who frankly discusses sex with her, and thereby reveals that in many ways, Lila is still a naïve little girl.

It Felt Like Love has plenty of cautionary adult materiel, but it never rises to the level of salaciousness of earlier movies like Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), Larry Clark’s Kids (1995), or Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen (2003). That in and of itself makes it no better or worse than those groundbreaking films. Where it falters is in the depiction of Lila’s friends and family. None of them resonate in nearly the same way that the lead character does. Some of them, like Chiara, get a fair amount of screen time, but they still leave little impression. There are hints of a deeper character in her father, but he is never developed. The boys, for the most part, are merely sexual objects. That may be intentional on Hittman’s part, given that so many actress have been treated in a similar manner throughout film history, but it feels more like she simply had no interest in these other characters. This is very much a one-girl show.

That ultimately keeps It Felt Like Love from being as powerful as a movie like Dee Rees’ Pariah (2011), which is also about a teenage girl struggling with her sexuality. Rees was able to craft an equally compelling portrait of her hero Alike (played by Adepero Oduye), but she also managed to present us with a far more potent best friend (Pernell Walker’s Laura) and a far more resonant parent (Kim Wayans as Alike mother). And there were several other well-drawn characters on top of that.

Hittman may not manage that trick. But what she and Piersanti do achieve with Lila is impressive enough to merit some attention.


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Jonathan Eig
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