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By Jamie Tipps | January 30, 2013

Her face covered in zinc sunblock and wearing a plain, one-piece bathing suit, Lila (Gina Persanti) hesitates to break into the beach house. Her best friend, Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni), scores white wine from the fridge, while Chiara’s boyfriend-of-the-moment (Jesse Cordasco) rifles through a jewelry box, taking only a cheap heart-shaped ring. As unsupervised kids with a long summer to kill, the trio drifts around the beach and the city, getting up to no good in innocuous ways that make them feel daring. Most of the time, Lila—as the proverbial third wheel—sits idly by as the other two make out.

At fifteen, Lila longs to delve into sexual experimentation like her more promiscuous friend, but it’s readily apparent that she has no clue what that entails. When Sammy (Ronen Rubenstein), a hot, neighborhood tough, says “hi” in passing, Lila hones in on him with the psychotic zeal of which only teenage girls are capable: she envisions that he will be the guy who initiates her into the mysterious world of sex. She wages a dogged war, texting him, showing up at his work, trailing him around town. Mostly dismissive, Sammy tolerates her presence until she invades his home.

Lila awkwardly lingers at the periphery as Sammy and his friends watch porn and smoke pot, until her dopey attempts at seduction make her the object of ridicule. The teasing quickly escalates into misogynistic cruelty, from which Sammy feels no particular responsibility to save her. Alarm bells should be ringing, but Lila’s mother is gone, her dad is uninvolved, and Chiara’s completely self-centered—so there is no one to slam the brakes on her endeavors. Despite the degradation, Lila returns again and again in the hopes that Sammy eventually will like her.

It Felt Like Love feels a lot like real life—a painful, cringe-inducing reminder of adolescence. Lila’s misguided foray into adulthood is so insanely dangerous, you want to grab her shoulders and shake her, hard. The young cast delivers strong performances, and Persanti captures the reckless stupidity and false bravado of a girl who thinks she is making grown up decisions, while actually tottering willingly toward danger. While some might view Lila’s actions with incredulity, for a lot of females, they ultimately resonate as true. The whole uncomfortable time, I found myself hoping that that Lila would make it through her coming of age story relatively unscathed; looking back, I am amazed that any of us did.

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