This is a movie you should put to the top of your to-see list. Immediately.
Turn Me On, Dammit is a Norwegian film that deals with a very universal theme: coming-of-age and, specifically, sexual awakening. What makes the film brilliant, though, is that it handles these subjects in a delightfully refreshing way. If a Hollywood studio made a movie like this (and I know, because they have), it would probably be very male-driven, marketed to horny teen boys, and have lots of raunchy scenes and no substance. This film is none of that, and it delivers lots of humor and heart.
Alma, our main character, is a 15 year-old girl growing up in small-town Norway. She has a somewhat distant mother, a cliquey peer group, but her biggest problem is one we can all relate to: She’s horny. Alma has a crush on Artur, a handsome and popular boy. At the same time, her hormones are running wild. She masturbates, fantasizes, even calls a sex line, and then feels intensely guilty for giving in to her urges. Alma lives in an environment where, it seems, it’s frowned upon for a girl to have such desires and to indulge them in obvious ways. As a result, she thinks she must be an aberration for feeling what she’s feeling. She manages to keep it together socially until she has a mildly sexual encounter with Artur at a party. She tells friends, he find out she told, and he promptly denies it. His denial makes her an outcast, especially to her jealous friend Ingrid. Turns out, Ingrid also has a crush on Artur and she’s ready to go full-on Mean Girls to “punish” Alma for allegedly lying. Teen drama starts to spiral out of control, and when Alma’s mother and other adults in the village get involved, Alma decides to take her rebellion to a new level.
The performances in the movie are spot-on, and the characters are very well-drawn. Even if you’re not into subtitles and foreign films, I think you’ll find this movie relatable. The quirky, small-town feel is a bit reminiscent of Napoleon Dynamite but in a way that’s less over-the-top. Ingrid’s sister, Saralou, is entertainingly charming as the one friend who stands by Alma and helps to redeem her. Ingrid herself is a bit of a caricature of the popular-girl bully, and the adult cast also scores laughs. The real magic of the story, though, is that we’re able to laugh at its absurdity even as we cringe for Alma and what’s going to come next. There are a couple of points where the movie could take a dark turn—especially given all we’ve heard in recent years about teen bullying—but it always remains firmly upbeat. The last scene of the movie is so brilliant, hilarious, and touching that I broke out into applause.
Turn Me On, Dammit is subtitled, and it contains cursing, drug use, and mild to moderate sexual content including nudity. For some, that will be a problem… but it would be a shame to let that keep you from such a brilliant film. Another refreshing aspect of the movie is that it is sexual without being raunchy, something that American teen comedies (again) cannot manage to do. I really think the touch of a female film-maker makes the difference here. Nothing seems gratuitous, and it’s clear that the aim for Alma is really more than sex. Like many teenage girls, she also wants love, acceptance, and someone to help her through a difficult phase in her life. Too few movies honestly explore the sexuality and development of adolescent girls without sexualizing them in a way that makes it all about the men in the audience. I bet many adult women out there have experienced something similar to Alma’s confusion, and would relate to this story just as I did. A lot of adolescent girls would probably see this movie and feel relieved to know that they’re not “freaks” for feeling the way they do about sex. It’s a shame that we so rarely get a film like this that can start those conversations. Look for this film in a theater near you, or look for it on video. Just look for it somewhere, as it’s one you really should see.