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"Turn Me On, Dammit!" New Film a Horny Teen-Girl Manifesto?

With its sex-obsessed young heroine, "Turn Me On, Dammit!" goes where few movies have gone.
 
 
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 When we first meet Alma (Helene Bergsholm), the blond, almost angelic-looking teenage protagonist of the Norwegian comedy  “Turn Me On, Dammit!,” she’s sprawled out on the kitchen floor of her mom’s house with her hand down her pants, eagerly following the instructions of some phone-sex dude named Stig. You’ll have to trust me that this is the setup for a memorably awkward sight gag and not a creepazoid NC-17 fantasy — or, to put it another way, if Alma definitely has a dirty mind, the movie doesn’t.

A dry, whimsical and finally sweet film that tries to turn the conventional teenage sex comedy inside out (at least in gender terms), this debut feature from writer-director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen is one of those rare movies that gets better and more complicated the more you think about it. Watching the film is a thoroughly charming experience on its own terms, and then you’re left puzzling over all kinds of thorny questions that fail to yield clear answers. Is female sexual desire fundamentally different from male desire? If so, why is that true? Is a teenage girl’s sexuality, as one female friend put it, mainly a question of “playing around with her newfound power over the desires of others, rather than an expression of her own desire”?

Indeed, teenage female sexual desire remains something close to a cultural taboo, and let’s stipulate two things right now: The more I talk about this the more I run the risk of seeming like a perv, and I’m definitely not going to work out the whys and wherefores of that in a movie review. Perhaps teenage girls and young women are such central objects of sexual fascination in our culture — in the form of both lustful fantasy and puritanical repression — that it’s difficult to conceptualize them as being subjects too. I kicked this around with a few colleagues, and we could only come up with a few examples of movies involving teen female horniness, all of them problematic in one way or another: Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Laura Dern in “Smooth Talk,” Katie Jarvis (opposite Michael Fassbender) in the disturbing but undeniably hot British indie  “Fish Tank.” “Dirty Dancing”? Sort of. “The Virgin Suicides”? Sort of. There’s a lot of sublimated, metaphorical, kinda-sorta, which you just don’t encounter in the endless numbers of movies about the endless horniness of teen boys.

At any rate, Jacobsen (a woman, in case you can’t parse Scandinavian names) isn’t interested in sublimated kinda-sorta. She drives cheerfully straight at the taboo, spinning an absurdist, imaginative coming-of-age yarn that would seem far more conventional if its hero were a teenage boy. Whether you see “Turn Me On, Dammit!” as a realistic tale of teen lust and confusion in the post-feminist welfare state, or as something more like satirical farce, is entirely up to you. Is it believable that a cute teenage girl would have to resort to phone sex to get off? Have there ever been phone-sex lines aimed at women in the first place? If you’re going to get hung up on questions like that, this movie is not for you. The point is that Alma is stuck in the nowheresville fjord-side town of Skoddeheimen — I think that’s Norwegian for “Podunk” — and she’s desperately horny, and the boundaries between her sexual fantasies and the rest of the world aren’t what they might be.

Alma has sporadic phone-sex-interruptus sessions with Stig (inflating her mother’s phone bill to alarming dimensions) and elaborate nightly fantasies about a sleepy-eyed local dreamboat named Artur (Matias Myren), who seems to like her and all, but won’t make a move. Almost everyone she encounters, from her dour boss at the village convenience store to her best friend’s bitchy sister, can become the temporary star of Alma’s (often hilarious) erotic imagination. Her partner in loathing for life in Skoddeheimen — they flip off the village sign every time they pass it on the bus — is her classmate Sara (Malin Bjørhovde), who writes meandering letters to Texas death-row inmates that we see as low-tech animations. (There is indeed an element of “Napoleon Dynamite”-goes-to-rural-Scandinavia quirkiness to this picture, but I never minded it.)

 
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