I would love this movie to become the Risky Business or Pump Up the Volume for a generation of small-town Norwegian teens raised on Internet pornography. Even with its opening scene of a nubile young woman masturbating and a main plot point involving a teen boy surprising a not-unwilling girl by poking her thigh with his turtlenecked penis, this is essentially a warm, goofy story of an outsider coming of age, albeit one that takes place in a Norwegian hick town.
When Turn Me On, Dammit! arrived at the Portland International Film Festival in February, it felt far truer and more difficult to assimilate than any of the self-conscious artistic gestures visited upon us by a crop of ironical Greeks and ponderously meditative Thais. The film centers on a very, very horny 15-year-old girl named Alma (played with tender naiveté by amateur actress Helene Bergsholm), who is ostracized with all of adolescence’s wild cruelty after she tells a friend about the aforementioned dick-poking by her love interest, Artur. No one believes her, he denies it, and she descends into a leprous social Coventry, seeking comfort from phone-sex operators while battling her own distracted mother.
In true Nordic filmmaking style, the film maintains a cinema verité ungainliness and mostly natural lighting, which is flat and cold and a bit unforgiving. The town looks equally grim, a place of bus shelters and furtive drinking in parking lots, where parties are held at a municipal youth center.
But, you know what? Small-town adolescence actually is grim, and deeply funny, and mostly badly improvised by a pack of nervous idiots with social-adjustment issues and a tendency to blow the world wildly out of proportion. So kids go to stupid lengths to get a joint, consider bad hygiene a political statement and throw up in the weeds when they drink too much vodka. Mom dates the boss at the turnip plant and they wear matching jackets. Such is life.
The deadpan filming style makes these quirks feel small and human. The film’s got a beating heart, and never seems to exploit teen sex for anything but sympathy. The bawdiness and awkwardness all read largely true until the too-pat ending, which seems more at home in the smooth-polished ’80s of director John Hughes than it does amid kids who spent the whole film cruelly appending a penis to the main character’s name. But I didn’t mind. Even the Norwegians need a little sunshine, sometimes.
Critic’s Grade: A-
SEE IT: Turn Me On, Dammit! opens Friday at Living Room Theaters.