It Felt Like Love

While there’s nothing unusual about seeing a teenager trying to break free of the unindividuated and invisible state of childhood, the way in which it unfolds in Eliza Hittman’s debut feature is deeply uncomfortable.

Lila (Gina Piersanti) first appears on a Rockaway beach, her face Kabuki-white with sunblock, trailing like a ghost behind her older, heavily made-up friend Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni) and Chiara’s boyfriend Patrick (Jesse Cordasco). She observes their sassy-to-passive-aggressive flirting and tales of sexual exploration, silently wishing she had the same thing for herself. Soon Lila finds a target for her desires—Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), a wholly unremarkable bro who’s all tats and muscles—and starts to schedule her days around “accidentally” bumping into him. He humors her advances, which only fuels her lies and fantasies about what’s actually going on between them.

Lila’s neither a misguided innocent nor a calculating stalker, and her actions trenchantly debunk the conventions of Meet Cute and Nerd Comes Into Her Own One Magical Summer scenarios. The film’s palpable expression of pain, driven home by Hittman’s skillful framing, conveys not only the gap between media expectation and reality that Lila, like many before her, has fallen into, but that her single-minded pursuit of affection has rendered her incapable of considering anyone else’s feelings but her own. In the end, she finds herself more alone than ever.