Eye-catching though it may be, Turn Me On, Dammit! is actually kind of an ironic title. First, it implies a much more energetic film than Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s low-key second feature truly is, and second, it turns out that the protagonist has very little trouble getting turned on. A fifteen-year-old girl living the (fictional) small town of Skoddenheimen, Norway, Alma (Helene Bergsholm) is in a constant state of being all revved up with no place to go. While she’s more or less able to, as many young people do, suffer in private, things explode when a boy on whom she has a crush makes a sexual advance on her. When she goes to tell her best friends, she’s accused of lying and it’s not long before the whole school casts her out, taunting her endlessly with the nickname “Dick-Alma.” Clever kids, them.
Rather than play this up as high drama, Jacobsen toes a fine line between mocking her characters by trivializing their desires and expressions thereof (the boy’s advance is hilariously pathetic), while also finding something touching in their innocence and genuine in their emotions. If the film makes one misstep in not quite acclimating us to Alma’s school life before or after the incident, it is only because its focus is elsewhere, on her home life, where she’s racking up phone bills with sex lines and unable to connect with her mother, no matter of small importance when one has to walk great distances to get anywhere and one’s closest neighbor is an elderly woman who’s constantly spying on them.
But it does get at a very tangible part of Alma’s psyche, which is constantly zigging and zagging in all sorts of directions, inventing incidents and interactions to the point that you wonder if maybe she is really making up what happened with Artur. After all, he seems like such a nice boy. In her head, they’re often running away together for romantically languid afternoons, even as little more awaits her than the cold, dank walk from the bus stop home. She’s wise enough to realize that the world has much more to offer her than merely an early pregnancy and her grocery job, a fate to which she sees too many around her resigned, and idealizes the potential of moving to Oslo (the capital of Norway).
Turn Me On, Dammit! is a slight film, running only 75 minutes and little in the way of grand conflict, but better for it, more closely representing the experience of adolescence, in which we’re constantly placing ourselves in grandiose situations to find some way to liven up the frequent mundanity. It has a sharp sense of humor that transcends its national borders, several fine performances, and accounts, despite its title, for quite a bit more of the teenage experience than merely the sexual. Though that, as it does at that age, tends to drive much of it. Much more than being notable for its distinction in a male-driven marketplace, Turn Me On, Dammit! is a solid film about the embarrassment, awkwardness, and sometimes genuine pain of growing up.
The DVD release from New Yorker is not one of the finer things in life, despite its handsome packaging. Shot on 16mm, the transfer looks very much like video, often a little blurry, and lacking the sharpness that one would expect from a modern transfer. As the film is fairly tame, aesthetically, and takes place in the constantly-cloudy-and-rainy Norway, it doesn’t detract from it too much, but it is pretty rough. In terms of special features, you can look for deleted scenes, and interview with Jacobsen, and the theatrical trailer. All in all, a modest, but solid, package for a modest, but solid, film, one that easily transcends its familiar genre without being terribly showy about it.