“How come there are so many movies about a teenage boy who wants to have sex and this is the only one about a teenage girl who wants to have sex?”
The eternal question of young feminists the world over is asked once more on promotional posters for a new film that attempts to earnestly right the gender divide in teen films.
In Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s Turn Me On, Dammit!, we are introduced, first, to the small town of Skoddeheimen in Norway’s hinterlands. Inside a house tucked away in its foggy, fir-filled hills, 15 year old Alma (first-timer Helene Bergsholm) is laying on her back on the kitchen floor, the receiver of the landline telephone resting next to her ear, filling her head with the heady words of Stig, her operator of choice at the Wild Wet Dreams sex hotline. Rather than merely hinting at her sexual appetite, the film presents Alma’s libido frankly; she is horny, she masturbates and fantasizes about having sex constantly. She is, in other words, a normal teenage girl.
What follows is less Larry Clark and more — as one of my fellow cinema patrons described it — “what Juno could have been,” the implication being that the Norwegian film took more risks and made less excuses for its teenage characters’ burgeoning sexuality than Hollywood films are permitted to do. After explicitly imagining what she wants her crush Artur (Matias Myren) to do with and to her, Alma finds herself alone with him outside a local dance hall. It’s there that he shows her that her affection is requited — by jabbing her in the thigh with his erect penis. This funny moment is immediately offset by its sweetness: no-one is hurt or exploited, the naive Artur did the first thing he could think of and the much more wizened Alma, while appreciative, was not entirely fulfilled.
Alma darts inside to fill her friend Sara (Malin Bjørhovde) and Sara’s sister Ingrid (Beate Støfring) in on what just happened and Ingrid, who also has eyes for Artur, takes the chance to discredit Alma and spread the information around both the school and the tiny town. A social pariah, Alma is taunted with cries of “Dick-Alma!” as she attempts to not only restore her reputation, but also to retain her friendship with Sara and continue to satisfy her carnal desires—the ones that cause her exasperated single mother (Henriette Steenstrup) to sleep with earplugs.
Jacobsen, a prolific documentary filmmaker, chose Olaug Nilssen’s book of the same name from which to adapt her first dramatic screenplay. “The book is about people who want to be visible to the people around them, to be acknowledged,” Jacobsen explains of its appeal. “Their stories might seem small-scale, but everything that happens is very important to them.”
These insular interactions are communicated both through the narrative of the film — while Alma takes a mind-numbing job at the local store to pay off her gargantuan phone bill, Sara begins writing (but never sending) letters to prisoners on Death Row in Texas, the place to where she hopes to escape in hopes of working to end capital punishment — and through cinematographer Marianne Bakke’s treatment of it. The typically icy blonde Nordic stars are shot intimately, in washed-out tones, against the warm wood panelling of their homes and pastel bedrooms.
The cool, bleached colors in the frame do nothing to endanger the warmth of this exceptional film, particularly during any moments when Sara and Ingrid’s enviable older sister Maria (Julia Bache-Wiig) is on screen. With her fiery red hair, hip student life in Oslo and fun and welcoming housemates, she provides salvation and security for Alma when the scrutiny of being ostracized in Skoddeheimen overwhelms her.
Unlike its male counterparts, this examination of blossoming female sexuality and discovery is devoid of fart jokes and worship of the busty blonde “ideal”; it is a genuine and curious anomaly that deserves praise and many similarly themed successors.
Turn Me On, Dammit! premiered in New York this past weekend, and opens across the United States in increments. See the complete list of dates here.