With all of the stories, movies, and television episodes dedicated to the horny teenage male, it’s a bit of an understatement to say that the topic is well-covered. Regrettably, there’s still a nasty double-standard in regards to the population of sexual-minded females — their desires aren’t looked at with the same respect that males get in those various forms of media, and that’s if they’re even represented at all. Better late than never, “Turn Me On, Dammit!” attempts to fill that void by not only having its main protagonist seemingly fueled by coitus, but by also targeting society’s uneven treatment of sexual matters between boys and girls. Director Jannicke Systad Jacobson generally keeps things fresh and playful in a Godardian way, fooling with the plot’s thread by the way of the “unreliable narrator” device and several instances that acknowledge the medium itself. But eventually the fun comes to an end, and the road-less-traveled is abandoned for a much more standard storytelling method, an approach which does little to mask the script’s predictable second half or its unwarranted grasps at sentimentality.
Skoddenheim, the setting for ‘Turn Me On,’ is revealed in a handful of static shots: Cozy, quiet, peaceful. But protagonist Alma (Helene Bergsholm) assures us that it is not. These images of the town’s solitary environment are coupled with Alma’s voice, full of distaste for the boring residence — “Stupid mountains, stupid roads” she states dryly before our attention is steered to the cynic herself, sprawled on the kitchen floor with a hand in her undies. Soon enough the session is disturbed by her mother, but thankfully the daughter manages to decently compose herself before the matriarch strolls into the room. It’s an amusing scene that does a great deal of concise establishing work without feeling too bumbling or silly — sure, we’ve seen this moment before (it’s practically in every “American Pie” movie, no?), but never this smartly. Jacobson manages to strike a variety of feelings and does so at a leisurely pace, constructing an off-beat tone that’s actually fun in a seemingly new way.
The protagonist’s world-view isn’t all Debbie Downer, and soon enough we’re introduced to classmate Artur (Matias Myren), a boy she’s head-over-heels for, who is the star of her best sexual daydreams. An upcoming house party not only provides a much-needed distraction from their dull town but also an opportunity to bring her imaginary relationship with this hunk into reality — and thus Alma and her buddies Ingrid and Saralou journey to the shindig. Soon the two lovebirds find themselves alone, and the boy uses this opportunity to flirtatiously poke the girl on the side — with his penis. This puts her hormones through the roof (there’s an immediate cut to Alma riding an out-of-frame Artur, through context we figure out it’s only a fantasy) and she giddily reports the event to her buddies. Unfortunately they don’t believe her (part dubious act/part Ingrid herself having a crush on the guy), and when confronted at the party, Artur denies it. Thus begins the ridicule of poor Alma, who loses her friends and manages to become the butt of every classroom crack, pushing her into isolation.
…and it doesn’t get much more complicated than that. ‘Turn Me On’ keeps things simple and Alma essentially becomes an inactive character while the other supporting roles further the story along. Generally this kind of writing rarely begets a compelling film, but Jacobson’s experimentation keeps audience investment high. Sexual fantasies come regularly and give the narrative a fluffy, entertaining flavor; the lack of visual distinction between what’s true and what’s mad lust also creates a fun guessing game. Characters, at times, seem to be aware of the medium, such as when Alma paints herself a tragic epilogue before running away or when Saralou recaps the dramatic penis-poking-party-conflict in a letter to a penpal (who happens to be an imprisoned convict). The filmmaker channels the French New Wave’s free-spirit without directly aping them, resulting in an often refreshing, carefree experience.
But at some point the conflict must be resolved, and the tale starts heading towards that direction somewhere around the mid-mark. However, here Jacobson decides to adopt a more obvious approach to the story, dropping her already-cemented tone and style for one with proper music cues and a sentimental glazing to every relationship. Disappointment aside, the two forms don’t mesh well; scenes demanding an emotional response from the audience feel terribly contrived. These are the kind of things you have to build to, something that the wild (and entirely more successful) first half refused to do. That’s not to say we don’t care about Alma, because after all, she’s our hero. We know she has been wronged and we feel her pain. But the rapport between the teen and her Mother isn’t developed enough early on to make any of those later bonding/reconciliatory scenes feel even remotely justifiable. Similar scenes with other characters produce little more than a defeated shrug.
Basing the plot entirely around a female who suffers due to the perverted act of a male (who gets off scott-free) is a topical gem of an idea, and that combined with the honest portrayal of a horny teenage woman makes for an even more unique, captivating movie. Despite being uneven straight down the middle, later mistakes don’t eliminate the earlier pleasantries, and the unique perspective of the subject keep things engrossing even when the script can’t. [C+]