‘Turn Me On, Dammit’: You go, girl

March 27, 2012


“Turn Me On, Dammit” could be the Republicans’ worst nightmare: a movie about female sexuality that isn’t smarmy, sensational, exploitive – or judgmental.

Talk about subversive.

Indeed, this Norwegian film by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen is a total departure: the first teen coming-of-age film I can recall that uses a certain bittersweet amusement to deal calmly with the rampaging hormones of an adolescent girl.

Here’s a teen girl, Alma (Helene Bergsholm), who is horny and fantasizes endlessly about sex, masturbating enthusiastically – and who doesn’t suffer as a result. She isn’t raped, she isn’t killed, she doesn’t fall victim to unexpected pregnancy or any of its potential fall-out. Indeed, she learns a valuable and enriching life lesson and then goes on with her life, happier and more self-assured.

In other words, she’s Rick Santorum’s biggest fear: a sexually eager woman who isn’t punished for her urges.

Hollywood has told this story endlessly – but always about boys, almost never about girls (at least not without a tragic component). Think “Porky’s.” Think “American Pie.” Think any sex-drenched teen comedy of the past 30 years.

That’s what makes “Turn Me On, Dammit” such a breakthrough. It’s a charming, wistful tale of one girl trying to come to terms with impulses she feels are unique to her.

In the case of Alma, her outlet is a phone-sex hotline, where she’s enough of a regular that her favorite operator, Stig, calls back to make sure she’s OK when a call is cut off. In fact, she was caught short in the midst of masturbating to Stig’s dirty talk by her mother’s return home.

Alma, who is almost 16, lives with her single mom (Henriette Steenstrup) in the tiny town of Skoddeheimen, so remote that the locals have to ride a bus over the mountain to go grocery shopping. Alma and her pals routinely give the finger to the sign bearing the town’s name each time they pass it on the ride to civilization.

Alma’s chief fantasy is about a schoolmate, Artur (Matias Myren), who can’t seem to make a move on her and for whom she apparently is competing with her best friend, Ingrid (Beate Stofring). Alma gets dressed up for a party at the local teen center, hoping that Artur will take her outside and, at least, kiss her.

In fact, he does something even more forward: He pulls out his penis and pokes her on the side of the leg. Alma, a little drunk (she and her friends have convinced someone to buy them beer), blurts this out to her friends: “Artur poked me with his dick.” But when Artur denies it, Alma suddenly is a laughingstock, a pariah, tagged with the nickname “Dick Alma.”

Most of the film focuses on Alma’s struggle to deal with this unwanted reputation (which seems to be amplified a thousand-fold by how tiny her community is). She eventually runs away to Oslo to visit Ingrid’s older sister at college, discovering that, in fact, there is a larger, more accepting world outside of Skoddeheimen.

Jacobsen uses other, smaller strokes to paint a portrait of this little world. There’s Alma’s friend Sara (Malin Bjorhovde), who happens to be Ingrid’s younger sister and who smokes cigarettes constantly to calm herself. In her spare time, she writes letters to Death-Row inmates in Texas and fantasizes about moving to America to protest the death penalty. Jacobsen also makes the most of a silent, all-watching neighbor to Alma’s house, who bristles when it is suggested that she is, in fact, a nosy voyeur.

But really, this is Alma’s story, one that originated as a best-selling novel by Olaug Nilssen in Norway and which led to this film, one of Norway’s biggest recent hits. Bergsholm is perfect as Alma: pretty without being gorgeous, filled with teen angst and sarcasm beneath a placid exterior. She captures the sense of a teen who feels her life has suddenly spun out of her control, working subtly with director Jacobsen to make this a deft, wittily low-key film.

You’ve never seen a teen coming-of-age film like “Turn Me On, Dammit.” Find it and see it.

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