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Despite the Crude Title, “Turn me on, dammit” Is a Delicate Drama

Despite the Crude Title, "Turn me on, dammit" Is a Delicate Drama

[Editor’s note: This review was originally published during Indiewire’s coverage of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. “Turn me on, dammit!” comes out in limited release this Friday, March 30.]

Despite the confrontational title, Norwegian coming-of-age movie “Turn me on, dammit!” doesn’t take an abrasive approach. The gentle, emotionally honest narrative feature debut of writer-director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen follows horny teen Alma (Helene Bergsholm, in a believably understated breakout performance) as she explores her sexual curiosity, falls into an embarrassing situation with her peers and copes with becoming a pariah, all while dreaming of a better life. Adapted from the novel by Olau Nilssen, “Turn me on” plays like a familiar entry in the teen sex comedy genre without the sex.

Growing up in a remote community far from the bustling urbanity of Oslo, Alma’s desire to get off represents only one piece of the wider angst afflicting everyone her age in the area. (School bus riders ritualistically flick off the town sign as it passes by them each morning.) Still, Alma does think about sex a lot, appearing in the first scene sprawled out on her kitchen floor with one hand down her pants and a phone sex operator whispering in her ear. When her mother suddenly comes home, Alma’s frantic scrambling recalls the opening of “American Pie,” when a jittery Jason Biggs gets busted by his folks while jacking off to late night porn.

The difference here, aside from the gender, is that Alma’s close call doesn’t really play for laughs. Instead, the scene emphasizes her frustration over being forced to repress her needs. It feels candid instead of crude.

That also applies to a later plot point, which finds Alma having an awkward encounter with young stud Artur (Matias Myren) at a party, when he randomly rubs his member against her leg. Instantly spreading word to her peers, Alma finds herself the subject of disdain when Artur denies the act. Now nicknamed “Dick Alma,” she quickly becomes ostracized by the only world available to her. On her own, Alma’s imagination runs wild, and she begins to have a series of amusing fantasies in which she envisions sexual advances from those around her.

Which begs the question: Did Artur actually run his rod into Alma’s leg, or was it simply another one of her lewd daydreams? The uncertainty matters more than a firm answer because “Turn me on” focuses on the lingering perceptions of young people still figuring out how to communicate. When Alma’s mother eventually learns about her daughter’s phone sex habits, Alma takes a rebellious route, openly moaning from her bedroom and snatching a Playboy from her day job at the drug store. Needless to say, that doesn’t improve her lifestyle conditions.

Meanwhile, Alma’s close friend begins to obsessively send letters to American prisoners on death row, a reminder that Alma and her peers harbor a genuine desire to escape the constraints of a boring existence. Her burgeoning sexuality is only one expression of that burning need.

Jacobsen conveys this situation with a delicate touch and whimsical stylistic flourishes: Occasional black-and-white images sum up the events, while a playful indie rock score fleshes out the atmosphere. However, at 75 minutes, the filmmaker cuts to black just when the story begins to take an interesting new direction. With so much promise leading up to that point, the dispiriting climax is a major turn-off.

HOW WILL IT PLAY? If allowed to keep its racy title, “Turn me on, dammit!” could do magical numbers on VOD. A successful U.S. theatrical release is more unlikely.

criticWIRE grade: B+

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Since when did indieWIRE start adding the HOW WILL IT PLAY? part to reviews? If I want that box office prognostication, I’d read the entirely useless Variety reviews. Can’t the review stand on its own??


Goddammit, I have to wait until September.

Eric Kohn

Warren, “Duh”: I suppose some brief elaboration is in order here. Everyone afraid of spoilers should look away right now.

Folks, I understand where you’re coming from. The exact ending–which finds Alma and Artur sitting at the kitchen table, facing down Alma’s mother, unsure what their future will bring–is wonderfully ambiguous and perfectly awkward. The scenes preceding it, however, leave much to be desired. I didn’t find Artur’s attraction to Alma sufficiently explained, nor why she was willing to give him a second chance. I get the idea that it’s just young love and doesn’t need a major of explanation, they’re just following their whims, etc.

But Alma is such a great character who spends so much of the movie wanting to be desired that when she finally gets her man, I wanted at least a little more elaboration. I’m not saying that the ending ruined the movie for me. Quite the contrary: It’s so good so that I wanted it to be a tad bit better.

Warren: I have double-checked the copy of the movie that was provided me. Unless the director changed something last minute, the still frame sequences in the film are indeed black-and-white. And Alma most definitely reads a Playboy at the drug store. Any other nitpicks?


I agree with Duh. I thought the ending was perfectly timed, and just at the point where a more immature, less skilled filmmaker would’ve gone on for another twenty minutes, there was a wisely placed cut to black.

Also, there was no black and white imagery. It was sepia-toned, as I recall. And the magazine didn’t seem to be specifically a Playboy. I thought it was more like a generic porn mag.

And without giving anything way, the thing you think “begs a question” seems to have been pretty definitively answered.

I saw this movie this past weekend, and liked it a lot. This review, on the other hand, seems pretty sloppy.


I feel I have to point out something here, you write;

“the filmmaker cuts to black just when the story begins to take an interesting new direction. With so much promise leading up to that point, the dispiriting climax is a major turn-off.”

Thats the point, the major turn-off at the end, it could not be more symbolic, it sums up the the whole story, its brilliant. :)

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