REVIEW: Salty-Sweet Turn Me On, Dammit! Just Gets the Hormone-Addled Teenage-Girl Thing
The way salty-sweet comedy Turn Me On, Dammit! treats the hormone-addled turmoil of its 15-year-old heroine Alma (Helene Bergsholm) feels something close to revolutionary. I don't want to overburden this mild-mannered 76-minute Norwegian debut, but it's true.
There's an entire genre of films based around the awkward adventures of teenage boys consumed with getting laid, but when it comes to the girls' side of the story, the narratives are usually about holding out, giving in or finally finding the right time in conjunction with the arrival of true love. It's awfully refreshing to see a female character dealing with her own desire instead of just being the object of someone else's, and the film, which director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen adapted from a novel by Olaug Nilssen, allows Alma's journey to be funny, embarrassing and poignant without ever seeming leering or exploitative.
Alma may harbor a major crush on local dreamboat Artur (Matias Myren), who plays guitar for the choir, but her haze of hot-pantsedness extends beyond him to a bemused erotic consideration of the limited selection of people around her in her rural hometown of Skoddeheimen. ("Mountain. Empty road. More empty road. Empty road with a tractor" she intones in the film's opening tour of the highlights of the area.) She's called a phone-sex line (Wild Wet Dreams) so often she's run up more than $1,000 in charges and has befriended the guy on the other line who's getting paid to talk dirty to her. Her single mother (Henriette Steenstrup) works at a turnip factory. Her two best friends are sisters -- the alternachick Sara (Malin Bjørhovde) and queen bee Ingrid (Beate Støfring), who applies her lip gloss with the kind of flourish a London society matron would employ in brandishing a fan. They hang out in front of the supermarket looking for someone to buy them beer. They flip off the "Skoddeheimen" sign whenever they drive past it.
Alma and Sara hate their home out of a general sense of teenage disdain and desire for someplace new (Ingrid doesn't think it's so bad). "I'm sick of this hole," Sara sighs -- but Alma's about to get a real reason to dislike Skoddeheimen. At a party at the youth center, Artur comes up to Alma while she's standing outside and without explanation takes out and brushes her with his penis (the film shows this scene with a giddy, surreal glee). She's thrilled by this display, but when she goes back inside to tell Ingrid, who also has a thing for Artur, her friend turns on her and accuses her of being sick and inventing the whole thing. Put on the spot by the crowd, Artur agrees, and our heroine becomes the school outcast, pinned with the nickname "Dick-Alma" and ignored or mocked by everyone. In such a small town, there's no refuge for the excluded -- one girl passes out invites to her birthday party to everyone in the classroom except Alma. Adding to Alma's humiliation is the fact that her mom knows and is a little horrified by her daughter's budding libido. She has nowhere to turn and no one else will admit to having any interest in sex. She feels like a freak.
The teenagers in Turn Me On, Dammit! are all first-time actors and acquit themselves well, most of all Bergsholm. She gives a generous, egoless performance as Alma, who refuses to meekly accept being shunned. The film is told from Alma's point of view, complete with voiceover, and frequently dips into the character's flights of fancy, which are sometimes shown as a series of stills that Alma narrates and other times as scenes indistinguishable from reality until they're revealed to be otherwise. It's this device that makes the incident with Artur seem, for a while, like a possible Alma invention -- it fits right in with her other funny, half-informed fantasies, including one in which her boss at the supermarket tells her they're going to close the store so they can boink and then does a dance for her by the magazine rack, or another that features Ingrid reapplying lip gloss as usual and then demanding oral sex.
It takes a trip to Oslo and a visit with unfettered college students for Alma to be reassured that there's nothing abnormal about her, and it helps that Sara comes back around to her side after finding her own romance with the class stoner, who appreciates her dream of moving to Texas to work on abolishing capital punishment. But even when Turn Me On, Dammit! finds its happy ending, its greatest pleasures are in the matter-of-factness with which it treats its character's growing pains. Having the whole school exclude you on the basis of being a pervert certainly hurts, but the film and Alma herself seem to realize it will pass, and that you might as well get drunk behind the grocery store and curse the world while hurling turnips at the ground -- tomorrow will be another day, and that's another day closer to adulthood.