Turn Me On, Dammit! Dir. Jannicke Systad Jacobsen

[New Yorker Films; 2011]

Styles: sex comedy, coming-of-age
Others: Easy A, 36 Fillette

It is rare that a film’s title fully encapsulates its tone and ethos, but Turn Me On, Dammit! does the trick. It’s a command, not a come-on: a restless demand for affirmation, and a challenge at that. The insistence on sexual stimulation carries the expectation that other fires will be fanned, as well. One could perhaps find this naïve and overly optimistic; it makes sense when we take into account that the movie is about a teenager.

Fifteen-year-old Alma (Helene Bergsholm) lives with her single mom (Henriette Steenstrup) in Skoddeheimen, a small but picturesque town in western Norway. There’s not a whole lot for disaffected youth to do in Skoddeheimen except hang out at the teen center, sneak beers at the bus stop, and slog their way through school. Some, of course, sink their teeth into the social and sexual politics of the day, which are especially juicy in such a small town. Others take up further-flung hobbies. Alma, for her part, is absorbed with tending to her raging horniness, to the extent that she has to take on a part-time job to cover the costs of her phone sex habit.

Alma gives herself over to fantasies, most of which hone in on Artur (Matias Myren), a lanky, studly — if wooden — presence upon which she can project pretty much anything she likes. Her imagined trysts with Artur run toward the gauzy and idealized, so it’s an unexpected delight for Alma when, at an otherwise depressing party, a very in-the-flesh Artur commits a brazenly feral act of carnal effrontery. Enchantment quickly turns to disappointment, though, as Alma’s unapologetic brush with extra-conjugal bliss wins her few friends among her peer group. This is still high school we’re talking about, so she’s soon ostracized as her upfront sexuality throws a wrench in the gears of social convention.

The setup might sound familiar, and those expecting the film to sound like a liberated message regarding sexual attitudes will not be disappointed. But Turn Me On, Dammit! is more concerned with the fraught emotional and social developments that Alma undergoes. It’s often a downbeat film, and not just because of the austere landscape in which it is set. Ever-present is a sense of the distinctly (though not exclusively) teenage longing for escape and for the advent of something simply other.

Sex is the tool through which Alma will upend things, to see what happens when she forces those around her to confront something beyond the norm. Her mistake is to expect that people will behave with more acceptance, and with more unpredictability, than they actually do. What really draws her ire is that those around her seem to be unable to throw off convention, confirming some of her worst fears about the closed-mindedness, pettiness, and shallow disgust of her fellow townspeople.

As the film winds down, our heroine does find a kind of resolution to her troubles and is drawn back into the fold of Skoddeheimen to some extent. This struck me as a false note. Certainly it’s important for Alma to feel normal and comfortable in her own skin. But it’s also clear that she badly needs to leave the world of conniving classmates, lily-livered crush objects, and abject boredom well behind her. After all, this is a girl whose real passions have only just begun to surface.

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