The slight, sweet coming-of-age tale “Turn Me On, Dammit!” is both unflinching and somewhat coy. In other words, it reflects the contradictory extremes of its heroine’s feelings. Oversexed and underserved, 15-year-old Alma (Helene Bergsholm) lives in a backwater, bucolic part of Norway, where she has a rough time distinguishing between fantasy and reality as she contends with her boiling hormones.
When she’s not racking up a major phone bill, talking on a sex line to a guy named Stig (who’s as much a therapist as an erotic provocateur), Alma is crushing hard on schoolmate Artur (Matias Myren). The movie puts us in the head of Alma so fully, envisioning fantasies of dreamy soulmate cuddlesex with Artur, that it’s hard at first to know what’s really real about an encounter she has with him outside a teenage dance party.
Um, so … how to explain this, exactly? In an endearingly goofus, adolescent way (which most adult guys can recall infinite variations of, to our deep shame), Artur displays his, um, plumage to Alma. Erect. And he sort of, um, pokes her in the side with it.
Neither of them seems exactly sure what to do about this salute. Alma makes the worst of it. She tells her best pals, the sisters Sara (Malin Bjorhovde), a glum smoker who’s a Norwegian fusion of Ellen Page and Janeane Garofalo, and Barbie-blond Ingrid (Beate Stofring), who — awkward! — has a yen for Artur herself. Word leaks out, and Alma becomes an instant pariah at school. (Funny how, whether it’s in Norway or the U.S., the guy gets off scot free and the girl is the one forced to suffer a whispering campaign.)
Breezing in at barely more than an hour, “Turn Me On” is more sketch than portrait. But it’s honorable in its depiction of Alma and her urges, which drive her single mother (Henriette Steenstrup, in a sympathetic performance) close to a breaking point. (The phone-sex bill doesn’t help.) The movie isn’t salacious, despite a title that’s as memorable as it is off-target. Alma doesn’t need anybody to turn her on; everybody does. The problem is that nobody’s getting her off.
That may make it sound as if the movie is some sort of bacchanal. Not even close. Instead, it shows a new female director (Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, who also co-scripted) exploring teenage desire in a way that never comes close to the fake, swooning idiocy of the “Twilight” movies. Bergsholm, who resembles a Norwegian Fanning sister, is lovely and anchors the film with a calm fearlessness. And here’s a footnote for the sex-skittish: the actress was born in 1992, so she’s not actually underage, even though she plays a character who is.
“Turn Me On, Dammit!” With Helene Bergsholm, Matias Myren, Malin Bjorhovde. Directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen. In Norwegian with subtitles. Unrated; includes brief nudity. 76 minutes. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.