Sex and the Single (Teenage) Girl

03/28/2012 4:00 AM |

Turn Me On, Dammit!
Directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen

It’s hard to manage an audience’s expectations when you open a film with a 15-year-old girl getting caught masturbating by her mother. In the case of Turn Me On, Dammit!, a charming Norwegian import, the scene doesn’t shock as much as it sets an unrestrained tone to a disarmingly earnest film about teenage sexuality. The sequence recalls the opening of American Pie, the 1999 hit that ignited a generational revival of the coming-of-age sex comedy in the age of the Farrelly brothers. But whereas American Pie and its studio-produced kin went for raunchy laughs, Turn Me On, Dammit! goes one step further in dealing with a teenage sex drive: it takes it seriously.

Alma (Helene Bergsholm) lives in a sleepy, rural Norwegian town with her single mother (Henriette Steenstrup). She is overwhelmed by her nascent sex drive, a feeling she’s fully aware of but unable to understand or discretely control. For Alma, sex exists mainly in the realm of fantasy: the film is peppered with inventive fantasy sequences that have slight tinges of Belle de Jour, with Buñuel’s surrealist edge replaced by playful, youthful exuberance.

Alma is caught off-guard during a party when her crush, Artur (Matias Myren), inexplicably pokes her thigh with his penis. It’s a silly, ridiculous action that never comes across as even remotely sexual. A perplexed Alma decides to tells her friends about the awkward encounter, only to become a social outcast when Artur denies it. Word spreads of what happened. Now her reputation is shattered and the entire town knows her as “Dick Alma.”

The film makes a wise choice by focusing on the mother-daughter relationship rather than some sort of ritual prom-sex consummation. Despite its strictly sexual surface, the film’s core is purely emotional as we follow Alma’s attempts to overcome her own insecurities. Best of all is the film’s unapologetic approach to sex: “Because I’m horny!” Alma yells back at her mother after being confronted with expensive charges from a phone-sex line. Bergsholm’s endearing performance as Alma is complemented by a strong supporting, including Sara (Malin Bjorhovde), a friend who longs to leave Norway for Texas in order to repeal capital punishment; Alma also forms an irreverent long-distance friendship with a phone-sex operator, whom she seeks out for fatherly advice.

There are few subjects as incendiary in cinema as a teenage girl’s sexual awakening. Attempts to depict it can veer to melodrama as easily as sexploitation, but with the notable exception of 2010’s delightfully subversive Easy A, there are few films that can tackle the subject without over-relying on nervous laughs or gratuitous sex. The brazen honesty of Turn Me On, Dammit! sets it apart as a refreshingly confident film, giving the teenage sex comedy a much warranted human dimension.

Opens March 30