I think the thing that may disarm some viewers who are predisposed to dislike or be offended by Turn Me on Dammit! is that it isn’t really, truly, in the final analysis, about the sex. Either that or that it is. Sex is either too much or too little in American movies. Everything or next to nothing. Turn Me on Dammit! seems to want to position itself as pushing the envelope and, hence, trying to sell us on the notion that it is about the sex. I think there was more to it than that.
Yeah, I know I am in the minority in this opinion. Even the film’s press kit presents the work as about “the unbridled sexual appetite of a teenage girl.”
The sex elements are actually somewhat tame–banal in the way that frank depictions of most sex are. Alma, a Norwegian teenager, masturbates furtively and is almost interrupted by her mom returning home. Her fantasies are the stuff of soft porn, and we get enough of them to make some more sensitive viewers blush. If the film has a comment to make, however, it is in the contrast between the eroticized and romanticized fantasies and the more dull and desperate realities. People’s actual sex lives, even those of young, pretty Scandanavians, are rarely like the sex people have in movies.
It is in the depiction of small town life–the boredom, the utter lack of privacy, the psychological weight of purposelessness–that the film excels. Alma’s friend Sara wants to go to America and work on abolishing the death penalty, a fantasy that is as much borne of movies and as are Alma’s daydreams. In one of the film’s best scenes, the girls get a little out of control, throwing stuff and screaming in frustration, Alma at the boy who will not admit he poked her with his sex organ at a party, Sara at the stupid “American judicial system.” The joke is that they really can’t distinguish between the global and the local, between the large and the small. At that age who can?
Director Janicke Systad Jacobsen has commented:
“I remember very well what it was like to be a teenager,” she says, “how important everything seemed, all the emotions and experiences I had for the first time, how powerful they were, and how I wanted and needed everything to happen immediately. It’s a very tempestuous time, when things that may seem minor to older people can feel like a matter of life and death for a teenager. People are often nostalgic about their youth, but it can be very overwhelming to go through, and I think that this setting creates an opportunity for a lot of drama as well as comedy.”
This quote seems to reinforce the direction of the film, which condenses Olaug Nilssen’s novel about three women of different ages each frustrated in different ways and makes it about one young woman frustrated in one way. Most viewers will get that the sexual frustration is an emblem of a broader malaise, but that takes awhile to sink in, in part because the film really does try very hard to be a sex comedy.
Turn Me on Dammit! is more melancholy than funny. I suppose it will get some people calling it a “dark comedy” but I don’t think it really is. Or, rather, I think it is actually easier to admire if one doesn’t try to look at it as such. Helene Bergsholm gives a fine, nuanced performance, not emoting overly much but still managing to suggest how very thin is the layer of stoicism with which most teenagers face the world. I get that there are some people who won’t be able to get past the depictions of sexuality that aren’t framed in an easy to blow off, American Pie-like, farce framing, and that is a shame, because I think there are some interesting observations about modern life here. Young people mirror what they see, and it is worth thinking about how Alma’s preoccupation with sex can very much be looked at as a logical response to a culture that tells her that nothing really matters.