Turn Me On, Goddammit (Få meg på, for faen)
Norway (2011) Dir. Jannicke Systad Jacobsen
In the small remote Norwegian town of Skoddeheimen, fifteen year-old Alma (Helene Bergsholm) is a slave to her rampaging hormones, using every opportunity to satiate them while suffering from erotic daydreams about the people she comes into contact with, male or female.
At a party Alma is approached by Artur (Matias Myren), the boy she is crazy about, who expresses himself in an unusual intimate manner, but Alma makes the mistake of telling her best friends – sisters Saralou (Malin Bjørhovde) and Ingrid (Beate Støfring) – who refuse to believe here. Compounded by Artur denying the incident, Alma is outcast by everyone at school earning the nickname “Dick-Alma” as a result.
If Bridesmaids (a film I loathed) has taught us anything it is that men and women aren’t really that different from each other after all – at least where some taboo or personal subjects are concerned. The coming-of-age sexual awakening comedy drama has always been the property of the teenage male, presumably so that one half of the audience can relate to their awkwardness while the other half can get a big laugh out of it.
Unfortunately the double standards that blight our attitudes on sexual matters means that supplanted the male lead for a female would be an unthinkable prospect for many. This is where the delightfully titled Turn Me On, Goddammit scores a bullseye, by turning the tables on a male dominated convention delivering a humorous, insightful and universally enjoyable film.
Based on the novel by Olaug Nilssen the cards are laid on the table from the start with our first image of Alma lying on the kitchen floor, with a telephone by her ear as she pleasures herself to a near climax while a man named Stig talks dirty to her. Unfortunately Alma’s uptight and overworked mother (Henriette Steenstrup) comes home before any humiliation can occur.
If this is a common concern for the youth of the dreary mountain town of Skoddeheimen – which Alma and Saralou hate so much they flip off the town road sign every time they pass it – most seem to hide it much better than Alma can.
The haughty Ingrid, she of the lip gloss addiction, also has the hots for Artur which would explain her outrage at Alma’s story. Saralou, is the quieter one who writes letters to prisoners on US Death Row although she never sends them. She finds love in the form of local stoner Kjartan (Lars Nordtveit Listau), in the most listless yet perfectly balanced coupling in film history.
The isolation from everyone at school gradually brings Alma down with the tension overflowing to her home life, creating a rift between Alma and her mother. That and the small problem of Alma’s moments of intimate self-pleasure keeping her mother awake at nights!
Had this film been made in Hollywood, the cast would all be impossibly good looking, the nerdier/outcast kids would be ridiculously signposted stereotypes and the sexual shenanigans would be inflated to inexcusably improbable and excessively inane proportions that their credibility wouldn’t even been close to appearing on the radar.
Thankfully being a production from Norway, everything about this film is the exact opposite and thus it can be viewed and enjoyed on both a relatable and entertainment level. A wry and intelligent script, sensitive handling of the sexual content (despite some teen nudity) and nuanced performances from a “normal” looking cast this is the sort of film Judd Apatow wishes he could have made instead of effluvia like the aptly titled Superbad.
The low key approach to both the filming and the presentation and – for wanting a better term – unglamorous appearances of the cast brings so much to the overall effect of the film, with the dreary, lifeless locale of Skoddeheimen acting as an omnipotent cage of misery. Quite why the desire to escape is limited to just Alma, Saralou and Kjartan is a mystery.
The frequent humour, mostly through Alma’s fantasies, is understandably ribald and near the knuckle for some but undeniably hilarious. I won’t say too much except I’d hate to be a customer of Alma’s till especially after what she did with the roll of coins! It is also through subtle actions of the characters and the minutiae that will raise a smile or two, despite the language barrier.
The most understated yet effective subplot is the crumbling relationship between Alma and her mother, which features some of the more understated and authentic acting of the whole film, with both actors creating a very believable chemistry between them. Alma slips into stroppy teen mode while her mother twists herself in knots over her daughter’s unabashed sexual explorations. It’s difficult not to feel for both of them as their lack of communication widens the rift.
In Helene Bergsholm writer/director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen has found a young talent that is able to emote on both the dramatic and comedic front with sincere aplomb. Her natural and unassuming looks work well for such a role – especially as she was nineteen at the time of filming playing a convincing fifteen year-old – and while not a conventional beauty in the Hollywood sense, she is an engaging and attractive leading lady.
Along with Henriette Steenstrup as Alma’s mother, Malin Bjørhovde as the moody misfit Saralou and Beate Støfring as the bitchy Ingrid, the remainder of the cast are often in Bergsholm’s shadow but offer solid and enthusiastic support.
Turn Me On, Goddammit may have a lurid title to titillate prospective viewers (and teases delivery on numerous occasions) but behind this is an intelligent, warm, funny and oddly relatable film that approaches its subject with a refreshing intention beyond simple salacious exploitation. A subtle and captivating 73 minute gem that deserves wider recognition.