Pick of the week: A horny teen-girl manifesto

Pick of the week: With its sex-obsessed young heroine, "Turn Me On, Dammit!" goes where few movies have gone

Topics: Our Picks: Movies, Our Picks, Sex, Feminism, Movies, Editor's Picks,

Pick of the week: A horny teen-girl manifestoMatias Myren and Helene Bergsholm in "Turn Me On, Dammit!"

When we first meet Alma (Helene Bergsholm), the blond, almost angelic-looking teenage protagonist of the Norwegian comedy “Turn Me On, Dammit!,” she’s sprawled out on the kitchen floor of her mom’s house with her hand down her pants, eagerly following the instructions of some phone-sex dude named Stig. You’ll have to trust me that this is the setup for a memorably awkward sight gag and not a creepazoid NC-17 fantasy — or, to put it another way, if Alma definitely has a dirty mind, the movie doesn’t.

A dry, whimsical and finally sweet film that tries to turn the conventional teenage sex comedy inside out (at least in gender terms), this debut feature from writer-director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen is one of those rare movies that gets better and more complicated the more you think about it. Watching the film is a thoroughly charming experience on its own terms, and then you’re left puzzling over all kinds of thorny questions that fail to yield clear answers. Is female sexual desire fundamentally different from male desire? If so, why is that true? Is a teenage girl’s sexuality, as one female friend put it, mainly a question of “playing around with her newfound power over the desires of others, rather than an expression of her own desire”?

Indeed, teenage female sexual desire remains something close to a cultural taboo, and let’s stipulate two things right now: The more I talk about this the more I run the risk of seeming like a perv, and I’m definitely not going to work out the whys and wherefores of that in a movie review. Perhaps teenage girls and young women are such central objects of sexual fascination in our culture — in the form of both lustful fantasy and puritanical repression — that it’s difficult to conceptualize them as being subjects too. I kicked this around with a few colleagues, and we could only come up with a few examples of movies involving teen female horniness, all of them problematic in one way or another: Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Laura Dern in “Smooth Talk,” Katie Jarvis (opposite Michael Fassbender) in the disturbing but undeniably hot British indie “Fish Tank.” “Dirty Dancing”? Sort of. “The Virgin Suicides”? Sort of. There’s a lot of sublimated, metaphorical, kinda-sorta, which you just don’t encounter in the endless numbers of movies about the endless horniness of teen boys.



At any rate, Jacobsen (a woman, in case you can’t parse Scandinavian names) isn’t interested in sublimated kinda-sorta. She drives cheerfully straight at the taboo, spinning an absurdist, imaginative coming-of-age yarn that would seem far more conventional if its hero were a teenage boy. Whether you see “Turn Me On, Dammit!” as a realistic tale of teen lust and confusion in the post-feminist welfare state, or as something more like satirical farce, is entirely up to you. Is it believable that a cute teenage girl would have to resort to phone sex to get off? Have there ever been phone-sex lines aimed at women in the first place? If you’re going to get hung up on questions like that, this movie is not for you. The point is that Alma is stuck in the nowheresville fjord-side town of Skoddeheimen — I think that’s Norwegian for “Podunk” — and she’s desperately horny, and the boundaries between her sexual fantasies and the rest of the world aren’t what they might be.

Alma has sporadic phone-sex-interruptus sessions with Stig (inflating her mother’s phone bill to alarming dimensions) and elaborate nightly fantasies about a sleepy-eyed local dreamboat named Artur (Matias Myren), who seems to like her and all, but won’t make a move. Almost everyone she encounters, from her dour boss at the village convenience store to her best friend’s bitchy sister, can become the temporary star of Alma’s (often hilarious) erotic imagination. Her partner in loathing for life in Skoddeheimen — they flip off the village sign every time they pass it on the bus — is her classmate Sara (Malin Bjørhovde), who writes meandering letters to Texas death-row inmates that we see as low-tech animations. (There is indeed an element of “Napoleon Dynamite”-goes-to-rural-Scandinavia quirkiness to this picture, but I never minded it.)

Things don’t improve any for Alma after she finally has an intimate moment with Artur, amid the ruined outdoor furniture behind the local youth center. Her would-be beau either does or does not display his throbbing naked manhood for her, which raises both the question of what actually happened (Alma says he did, but Artur denies it) but also of what Alma really wants, whether from him, from boys in general and from life. Since Alma is a known deviant and phone-sex addict, even her so-called friends don’t believe her, and she isn’t entirely sure herself. That’s when “Turn Me On, Dammit!,” which is largely light in tone, swings back toward social realism. Like girls shamed for their real or imaginary sexual conduct all over the world, Alma becomes a social pariah and the subject of vicious bathroom graffiti. She runs away to the perceived bohemian freedom of the big city, forcing a somewhat predictable crisis in which Artur, Sara, Alma’s eternally horrified mom (a difficult role, nicely handled by Henriette Steenstrup) and Alma herself are all forced to reexamine their actions.

When I first saw “Turn Me On, Dammit!” at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival — when the last word of the title was “Goddammit,” with no exclamation mark — it provoked a certain amount of debate, with some viewers suggesting that it might be too conventionally naughty to carry a feminist message. In fact, pervo-expectations will be thwarted, in that “Turn Me On” is all talk and no action. There’s no sex or nudity at all, unless you count Artur’s egregiously fake male member. It might merit an R rating (if it were rated), but just barely. This is a wry, affectionate small-town movie that ends up much closer to old-fashioned teen romance than you expect at first. But as I suggested earlier, along the way it sneaks up on a genuine feminist issue. Boys Alma’s age are expected to be sex-obsessed, but a girl who yearns for action is likely to find her lust and confusion simultaneously stigmatized, commodified and exploited. If Alma’s story scores an extremely modest victory against repression and hypocrisy, it’s one that female libertines everywhere (and those who honor and support them) can embrace.

“Turn Me On, Dammit!” opens this week in New York and April 13 in Los Angeles, with a national rollout to follow.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>