You know a movie's worthwhile when it pulls one of the oldest tricks in the book — reaction shots of an adorable dog — and it actually works.
The dog in the brisk and incisive Norwegian coming-of-age comedy "Turn Me On, Dammit!" is Bingo, companion to 15-year-old Alma (Helene Bergsholm), whom we first see masturbating on her living room floor, while on the line with a phone-sex rep, just before Alma's mother arrives home from work at the local turnip factory.
A reedy, restless soul — Bergsholm recalls Claire Danes in her emotional transparency and openness — Alma can barely stay contained within her own skin; her little farm town of Skoddeheimen is driving her mad, along with her hormones.
"Turn Me On, Dammit!" hinges on a mini-scandal involving the boy Alma likes, and that boy exposing himself to Alma outside the local youth center. This delivers unto Alma an instant and ill-deserved bad reputation and immediate outsider status. Director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen treats Alma's trials not as farce, nor as furrowed-brow naturalism, but as a deft fable, short (76 minutes) and bittersweet, of a young woman's sensual development.
The tone of the picture is akin to Stephen Frears'"Tamara Drewe," though the comic touch is surer here as well as more grounded in its female protagonist's tangled feelings. The character doesn't quite blossom into three dimensions; neither the style nor the size of the picture allows for it. But it's an intriguing portrait of adolescent intensity, handled coolly and calmly. At one point, after Alma runs away to Oslo to visit her unofficial mentor, a guitar-toting roommate immortalizes Alma's notorious rep in an impromptu song. It's the film's key moment, the point at which a thwarted young woman's humiliation is transformed into a badge of some kind of honor.
'Turn Me On, Dammit!' - 3 stars
No MPAA rating (nudity, sexuality, language)
Running time: 1:16; in Norwegian with English subtitles.
Opens: Friday, continues through July 12 at the Siskel Film Center