Director Deborah Haywood’s first feature Pin Cushion is a magical foray into her own memories of growing up in a small English town. What she has crafted is a beautiful and peculiar tale of the relationships that mold us. She has created something tragic, weird, and so gorgeous, we cringe but cannot look away all at the same time.
The central focus of this story is the codependent relationship between Iona (Lily Newmark in a powerfully quiet performance), the awkward and naïve teenager, and her acquiescent mother Lyn (Joanna Scanlan who gives a heartbreakingly funny performance). The pair is new in town and desperate to fit in and make friends. However, Iona and her mother seem to find only scorn from the women around them. The geeky Iona soon becomes the frenemy of the mean girls at her new school, who exploit her naiveté and enact humiliation after humiliation on Iona, who is all too willing to take what’s thrown at her to feel accepted in the heightened world that is high school.
As mother and daughter struggle to find their place in a community that very clearly doesn’t want them, Haywood’s film delves into the topics of bullying and mental illness in a uniquely heartbreaking manner. Cinematographer Nicola Daley paints this world with so much vibrant color, emphasizing the heightened state of every emotion when you are young. The brightness works to amplify while always validating what it feels like to be a teenager. The visual softness of the imagery in Iona’s fantasies demonstrates a world into which anyone would like to escape. Only as the bullying intensifies does Iona, and Lyn as well, realize that those fantasies cannot safeguard them for much longer.
Matching the color palate in Daley’s cinematography and the message within it is the film’s fantastical production (Francesca Massariol) and costume (Andy Blake) design. The feminine and crafty explosion in Lyn and Iona’s home is another place of sanctuary for them, one that we see crack and lose its magic as the relationship between mother and daughter becomes more complicated.
Pin Cushion is equally tragic and funny, magical realism and coming-of-age story, odd and creatively refreshing. It is a film unlike anything we’ve seen before and deserving of our attention. While much of the film focuses on Iona’s struggles with growing up, it is ultimately Lyn who reaches into our hearts and demands we feel her pain.