By Nelson H. Wu, The China Post
July 13, 2007, 12:00 am TWN
Like the guys from "The Full Monty" and "The Amateurs," the gals from "Calendar Girls" and that transsexual from "Trans-america," dowdy grandmother Maggie, played by lifelong rebel and singer Marianne Faithfull of all people, finds life renewal in "Irina Palm" through a socially unacceptable act, one that once again involves breaking sexual taboos and offending more delicate sensibilities.
For lack of a better name, I'll call these collected efforts the Let's Get Naked! subgenre of the feel-good movie. These pictures work on a very basic level and are always good for a few smiles and laughs, but ultimately they feel too easy and expected, something akin to the middle-aged white guy with the single earring or the soccer mom who takes pole-dancing classes on the weekend. Really, who are you trying to fool?
This week's "Irina Palm" is no exception. In its favor, it avoids stepping into a sentimental puddle and benefits greatly from a harsher, bleaker tone — but it nonetheless ends as nothing more than an amusing diversion.
The opening scenes paint a bleak portrait of Maggie's life in a London suburb. Her adult son (Kevin Bishop) is good for nothing. Her daughter-in-law (Siobhan Hewlett) comes across as haughty. And her preadolescent grandson (Corey Burke) is stricken with some anonymous but fatal disease that can only be cured by doctors in Australia.
To pay for the operation that will save her grandson's life, Maggie looks for a job, any job — and ends up in a sex club, where she thinks a hostess cleans up and does the dishes.
Instead, she's shown into a dingy cubicle. One of the walls has a hole in it, placed at roughly waist-level. She's given a bottle of lubricant, a box of tissues and some general instructions on the art of lending men in need a helping hand. (I've tried to be as discreet as possible here and have avoided using professional jargon or popular slang in favor of vague wording. Suffice it to say, I won't go into further details about the mechanics of Maggie's job; let's just say "Irina Palm" is one of those pictures that makes a reviewer's life unnecessarily difficult.)
Soon enough, Maggie takes the stage name Irina Palm and is billed as having "the best right hand in London" — an assessment that virtually everyone seems to agree with, judging by the long line outside Maggie's cubicle.