The story of a middle-aged widow entering the sex trade to help finance her grandson’s medical care sounds, depending on the emphasis, like either one of those lightly bawdy, twinkly English comedies or softcore porn. It’s admirable that Irina Palm falls into neither category, but unfortunate that it stops at “none of the above,” with no answer of its own.
As Maggie, eventual handjob queen of England, Marianne Faithfull wears a look of confusion for about twice as long as she should. Maggie is adrift in late-life malaise, yes, but Faithfull looks equally lost in the film without fleshed-out characters to contextualize her — the beloved grandson only has about two lines. Scene-painting happens in staccato creaks of exposition; even the small character moments are perfunctory and unimaginative.
Brief exceptions are the scenes where Maggie negotiates with sex-club owner Miki (Miki Manjolovic) — he sits behind his desk, looks up, poker-faced, from a handheld Mario Brothers game, and sends a low buzz of nervous energy through the drabness (he’s the one who christens her Irina Palm). These glimpses into the world of businesslike sex service are only a momentary diversion, though. Soon enough it’s back to repetitive subplots about the suspicions of Maggie’s family and neighbors, and a droning quasi-evocative guitar score.
At least the film is vaguely sex-positive — heavy on the vague when it asks us to believe that Maggie’s hands are skilled enough to put a pretty coworker half her age out of a job (so to speak). One aspect of the film is true to its working milieu, though: it sounds intriguing, but feels more like a chore.