If teenage boys are expected to exhibit a healthy sexual interest, then why isn’t the same attitude applied to their female counterparts? Such is the unspoken double standard at the heart of Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s lightly comic coming-of-age film Turn Me On, Dammit!, in which the hormonal 15-year-old protagonist makes no pretense about her budding sexuality and is ostracized by her classmates and misunderstood as “abnormal” by her mother. And all poor Alma (Helene Bergsholm) wanted to do was masturbate while calling a phone sex line or maybe indulge in actual intercourse with hunky schoolmate Artur (Matias Myren).
In this case, though, the double standard is more implied than illustrated since the only test case of developing sexuality explored in any detail is Alma’s (though her friend Sara is given a small subplot). But the film, in its cautiously understated rhythms, successfully communicates something of what it’s like to be a healthily sexual female person of 15 and the isolation that results from being frank about it. In this case the alienation comes from the fallout of Artur’s decision to “poke [Alma] with his dick,” as our heroine bluntly phrases it, outside a youth group social. After her potential love rubs his penis against her thigh and she announces the act to her friends, Artur vigorously denies the charges, leading Alma to become an outcast in a Norwegian town so small that there’s no chance of escaping the claustrophobic social ruthlessness.
Actually, given Alma’s frequent sexual fantasies, which Jacobsen shoots as if they are really happening until she brings us back to reality with a crude jolt, it’s not entirely clear until the film’s end whether or not Artur actually performed the act in question. But the possibility that he did and Alma’s pariah status makes it impossible for these two young people to begin a romantic involvement. Jacobsen employs a ready humor which, even when aiming for edginess, never pushes too hard in order to temper Alma’s humiliations and the bumpiness of her sexual and personal awakenings. She also shoots the film in a sort of blank haze—a slight fuzziness to the image coupled with a white color scheme—mirroring both the uncertainty of being young and unsure of one’s self and the purity traditionally associated with female youth.
All of which is more or less effective in setting a specific tone by turns wistful, ironic, and blunt. In her observations of her central character, too, Jacobsen is rarely off point, but it ultimately feels like the director’s not taking enough chances. Showing a 15 year old masturbating may be edgy, but if that’s your film’s most audacious conceit, then you probably need to try a little harder. Turn Me On, Dammit! gets what it does right, but it finally doesn’t do too much. Its observations are limited—not unfitting, though a tad obvious. Nothing here is wrong, but beyond pointing out that sexually charged teenage girls are likely to be misunderstood in an oppressive small town, there’s nothing that’s especially insightful here either.