Teenage boys are horny. An obvious notion that’s been cinema’s long time obsession through a seemingly endless—and in most cases superfluous—supply of both raunchy and indie male-centric coming-of-age films. Particularly in the last decade. Which makes it all the more refreshing to see Norwegian writer/director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s “Turn Me On, Dammit!” tackle the subject from a female perspective.
Opening with long static shots of desolate mountain roads, herds of sheep roaming aimlessly, and more shots depicting rural nothingness, Jacobsen does a remarkable job of establishing the exceedingly dull setting in the too-small-to-be-real Nordic village of Skoddeheimen, a town that’s an endless source of boredom and angst for 15-year-old Alma (Helene Bergsholm) and her clique of friends.
With a background in documentary filmmaking, it’s Jacobsen’s keen attention for capturing settings and the idiosyncrasies of Alma’s life that give the film its quirky charm.
Though perpetually bored, with grandiose plans to move on to bigger and better places like most of her friends, Alma isn’t like the other girls. Her budding, and curiously impulsive, sexuality eventually leads her askew.
At home she uses her vivid imagination—and a phone sex hotline—to quench her insatiable sex drive as she secretly crushes on Artur (Matias Myren), the dreamy, guitar-playing classmate that’s the apple of her eye.
Though their relationship starts off innocently enough—a few knowing glances and awkward smiles here and there—Alma and Artur’s appropriately adorable a pas deux comes to a screeching halt when Artur mans up and shows his true affections for Alma outside of a party at the local youth center by “poking her with his dick.”
Excited about the ‘escalation’ in their relationship, Alma immediately runs inside to tell her best friend, the equally angsty (but not so sexually so) Saralou (Malin Bjøhovde), and her lip gloss-addicted queen bee sister, Ingrid (Beate Støfring). Of course, Artur denies the entire ordeal, and Alma is immediately shunned from her popular social circle at school.
Ostracized by her classmates and declared “abnormal” by her own mother (who discovers Alma’s phone sex obsession), poor Alma is at her wits end. And for what reason? Because she likes to masturbate to phone sex hotlines and is eager to be “poked” by boys like any other 15-year old girl?
Such is the tone of Alma’s angst that drives the narrative of the film. But as the film establishes in its brisk 76-minute runtime, Alma is as tenacious a 15-year old as there ever was. Refusing to be victimized by Artur’s denials, she makes it her business to confront him and make him fess up. When she’s unsuccessful at that, she does the next logical thing and runs away to Oslo, to stay with Saralou and Ingrid’s older, college-bound sister, who serves as Alma’s role model.
Conveying teen angst with compassion and quirk, from the sure-to-be controversial opening scene of Alma “pleasuring” herself, Jacobsen never shies away from depicting the explicit details of a teen girl exploring her sexuality.
But what’s most charming, is the delicate way in which Jacobsen conveys the innocent curiosity of Alma’s sexual exploration. The film always manages to stay light-hearted and never delves into exploitative territories. It feels more like a John Hughes film by-way-of Noah Baumbach than anything else, especially in its sweet, yet somewhat flawed happily-ever-after finale.
Grounded by the superbly natural and subtle performance by the young Bersholm, who exercises her angst in a perfect blend of listless daydreaming and kinetic bursts of frustration, “Turn Me On, Dammit!” is an quietly funny, always honest, and oddly touching coming-of-age story.
One whose feminist narrative delightfully transcends its genre norms (that is, if ‘coming-of-age’ can be considered a genre by now), to explore the odd nature of one’s sexual awakening. And to prove that teenage girls are just as horny as boys.
Overall Grade: B+
“Turn Me On, Dammit!” is now playing in select theaters, click here for theaters and showtimes.