Mom (Henriette Steenstrup) is a Scandinavian look-alike of SNL‘s Debbie Downer and literally works someplace where they unload the turnip trucks—she wears a jogging jacket with a picture of a turnip embroidered on it when she goes to work. Dad is a subject that nobody raises.
The new Norwegian feature Turn Me On, Dammit! (showtimes and tickets here) is the story of their daughter: 15-year, 9-month-old Alma Sollheimslid (delightfully played by the 17-year-old Helene Bergsholm). She lives in the imaginary fjordside town of Skoddeheimen, Norway. It’s a terrific place to be a retired old person who glowers at young people. If you’re under 80, the real thrill of life involves giving the “Welcome to Skoddeheimen” sign the finger as you head back into the city limits for another day of boredom.
When not in school, Alma curses the sights: the stupid mountains, the stupid sheep, the two little kids eternally bouncing on their stupid trampoline. And she finds solace where every adolescent finds it—masturbating for dear life.
Despite that common denominator, Alma is more innocent than she thinks she is. Director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen shows us Alma’s fantasy of what it will be like when she finally lands a boyfriend, cutting to a body double so as not to exploit her young star. The fantasy consists, essentially, of a little breastplay—and then she and her man will be sleeping peacefully side by side. Alma can imagine the end of the encounter, just not the middle: “He takes my hand, and we are one.”
“He” is Artur (Matias Myren), the best-looking boy in town. He plays guitar for the church choir when they perform their restrained Scandinavian version of the spiritual “Oh, Happy Day.”
At a party one night, Alma and her pals acquire some beer by hanging outside of the liquor store and finding an adult to buy for them. Because they’re tipsy, an incident happens between Artur and Alma. The dazed, excited Alma blurts it out to her friends. Artur denies it, and Alma gets the reputation as the town slut. Her slightly bullying friend, the lip-gloss-sucking Ingrid (Beate St¿fring), is the first to blab.
How Alma manages to right things is the subject of a comedy that’s as light as it is supple. Turn Me On, Dammit! is not a deep film. It includes, for instance, reaction shots to a comedy dog named Bingo quizzically cocking his ear to the noises Alma makes when she’s going at it alone.
The newcomer Bergsholm, a nonprofessional from a small Norwegian town, outacts a lot of professionals you’ve seen. With her air of meekness and a light overbite, she looks like a lewd bunny rabbit, paralyzed in her tracks when a bad fantasy overcomes her.
The film is based on a three-part novel that seems to have been a lot more realistic—and a bit scandalous (the title has the Norse f-word in it, if youswear.com is correct). There are two other lonely young women in the original novel. The focus on Alma in the movie means that the story has been pared down. The only other main character is Ingrid’s sister, Sara (played by the Ellen Page-like Malin Bjorhovde).
Sara, a young political activist, dreams of going to Texas to protest against the death penalty. Sara is willing to take on a social outrage overseas, but she is also willing to stay complicit in the shunning of Alma, only visiting her when no one else is around.
Director Jacobsen doesn’t overscore the point about Sara’s contradictory behavior. That’s typical of the dry humor of Turn Me On, Dammit. Jacobsen is a longtime documentary filmmaker, and she’s apparently an expert at unobtrusiveness. The amateur cast members couldn’t be more at home if they were the smooth types in a John Hughes movie.
While the ending is slightly candied (functioning as a kind of “It Gets Better” message for Alma), that doesn’t overcome the unique spice and saltiness of this story of adolescent tumult from a girl’s perspective.