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Irina Palm also involves a young boy and tragic circumstances, though its dialogue doesn’t get much more mournful than this: “He’s dying, I’m wanking…it’s a mess!” Consider that the line is delivered by an English grandma who’s taken a job polishing the kind of knobs not found on doors to raise money for her grandson’s operation, and “mournful” becomes “hilarious.”
Which would be great, if director-co-writer (with two others!) Sam Garbarski intended the film as farce. But the story of Maggie (Marianne Faithfull, looking significantly older than her character’s 50 years) is supposed to be one of determination and empowerment, about the lengths—and girths—a formerly timid dowager will go to in order to save someone’s life. In the process, naturally, she also finds some spunk.
When little Olly (Corey Burke), generically ill, needs to be flown to Australia for an operation, his young, hand-to-mouth parents Sarah (Siobhán Hewlett) and Tom (Kevin Bishop), Maggie’s son, are told that universal health care will not cover their travel and hospital expenses. Maggie, struggling herself, tries applying for a loan (with no income and not even a house or car for collateral), then approaches a temp agency (also fruitless, considering she’s somehow gotten away with never working a day in her life). Maggie then walks around London, with Faithfull practically carrying an “Acting in Progress!” placard, and she shuffles along doing her best version of stricken, accompanied by repetitive, faux-edgy guitar strums of despair. In her daze, she catches a “hostess wanted” sign in a window but apparently not the name of the business, which would be Sexy World.
Mags thinks she’ll be making tea and such, so she’s shocked and/or horrified when the club’s requisitely oily owner, Miki (Miki Manojlovic), asks her, “Can you wank men off?” Like any honorable woman, Maggie leaves in a huff. But Miki’s promise of several hundred pounds a week—from servicing a coin-operated glory hole!—brings her back.
Several components of Irina Palm—the title becomes Maggie’s stage name—are absurd. There’s Maggie’s relationship with her daughter-in-law, strained for conflict’s sake alone, and her son’s ridiculously over-the-top reaction when he discovers how she got the cash. There’s her infuriating way of ignoring her friends and neighbors the many times she runs into them, running away like a rabbit instead of simply deflecting their questions. Best of the worst, though, are the money shots: Maggie’s look of disgust when she’s “trained,” and seemingly endless scenes of her on the job, in her flower-printed smock, stroking strategically hidden dicks. (One time, quite awesomely, we get the johns’ perspectives, most clutching the wall and moaning comically.)
The stricken street-walking, so to speak, is shown a few more times, and once Maggie discovers that she’s got the best whacking mitts in Soho, Garbarski also includes many shots of her staring at her hands. And did I mention the bad case of “penis elbow?” Or the love her new career helps Maggie find? Maggie might have helped save her grandson, but Irina Palm’s cast risks dying from embarrassment.