Though it might not be deserving of the wild cheers it received following the press screening, Irina Palm is quirky enough to entertain, if not a little too melodramatic. Recently, there's been a wave of "conservative middle-aged women take part in bizarre sexually-related acts for a good cause"-type flicks (see: Calendar Girls). So, it's not surprising to see filmmakers trying to up the ante -- add a tad more edge -- and see how the crowd reacts. Here in Europe, they go crazy for stuff like this; back home in the States ... not so much. We'd rather see Lindsay Lohan in bizarre sexually-related acts than a woman old enough to be, and playing, a grandmother. A chuckle or three is enough to get people in the seats these days, and Irina Palm has more -- yet, with its predictable plot and awkward tone shifts, it's hard to declare it a must see.
Maggie (Marianna Faithfull), a widowed grandmother, has found herself stuck between a rock and a really hard place: Her grandson is sick, and without the proper treatment, he could die within the next two months. When a new experimental surgery becomes available, Maggie -- along with her son and daughter-in-law -- jump at the chance to sign little Ollie up. However, there's a catch: while the surgery is pro bono, the family must fly from England to Australia since that's the only place the operation can be performed. Having already sold her house, as well as accepted a generous amount of donations from friends and neighbors living in her uptight, conservative community, Maggie is completely tapped out of funds. And so are Ollie's parents. With large amounts of debt piling up and no bank willing to give her a loan, employment agencies practically laugh in her face; an elderly woman, with no prior work experience, looking for a job? Yeah, right.
Down on her luck, Maggie spots a "Hostess Wanted" sign out of the corner of her eye while stumbling along the city street, and decides to apply. What she doesn't know is that this is Sex World, and the word "hostess" is really a "euphemism for whore," as explained to her by the shop's no nonsense owner, Mikky (Miki Manojlovic). The job, which pays real well, involves men masturbating through a small hole in the wall. Needless to say, at first, Maggie is horrified -- but, with help from a fellow "hostess," pretty soon the cash is pouring in and Maggie -- given the stage name Irina Palm -- is the most popular gal in the joint.
These early scenes are great, especially with Faithfull's ability to provide us with an assortment of classic reaction shots. But, as the script heads into act two, it begins drowning in a few unrealistic scenarios. Maggie's upper-class friends begin bugging her about this new working gig, but instead of lying or playing it cool, Maggie awkwardly runs away (literally) from the tricky confrontations. An attempted bonding session with her fellow working girl goes nowhere, except to add exposition. And, how many scenes do we need of poor little Timmy (sorry, Ollie) lying in bed, white as a ghost?
Things slowly build to a predictable conclusion, and the overly-dramatic acting in pic's final scenes somewhat sours the fun we were having earlier on. Director Sam Garbarski plays it safe behind the camera, presenting us with a mix of shaky over-the-shoulder shots that are supposed to be showing us Maggie's point-of-view, but end up dizzying us far too often. And the score, complete with the same five chords on repeat throughout every other scene, sicken us to a point where we feel like crawling into bed with Ollie and calling it a night.