In Deborah Haywood’s debut feature Pin Cushion, Joanna Scanlan (The Thick Of It, Stardust) and Lily Newmark (Solo: A Star Wars Story) star as a close-knit mother and daughter who move to a new town for a fresh start, only to encounter bullying at the hands of those who refuse to see beyond their apparent oddities and twee lifestyle. Loosely based on Haywood’s own childhood, the film relies heavily on its inspired magical realist and whimsical aesthetics to tell a beautifully well observed and sometimes harrowing story of alienation and painful childhood memories.
Lynn (Scanlan) and daughter Iona (Newmark) have always had a strong mother/daughter bond. Spending every waking hours together and referring to each other as “Dafty 1 and 2”, the pair had until now lived a beautifully sheltered and trouble-free life, but all this changes when they move to a new neighbourhood. Soon Lynn’s visible physical disability and Iona’s odd dress sense and apparent lack of experience with boys become the subject of much derision in the neighbourhood resulting in name calling and daily humiliation.
To fit in at school, Iona finds solace in lying about her mother’s true nature, pretending instead that she is a busy airline stewardess (played by former Girls Aloud band member Nadine Coyle in a number of dreamlike sequences), while Lynn is made fun of and bullied by a cruel neighbour over a borrowed stepladder. Things take a turn for the sinister, when Iona who has been tricked into new fake friendships at school, finds herself the subject of bullying and dangerous gossip after an impromptu house party descends into chaos.
Set in a heightened reality and with hints of Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976) or even Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004) in its more comedic moments, Pin Cushion offers an interesting if not always coherent narrative. Losing its way towards the end, the film does however manage to make some valid point and is sure to resonate with those amongst us who suffered similar fates due to their unorthodox upbringing. Having said that, where the film falls short is in its inability to ring true throughout, choosing instead to represent the villains as caricatural, two-dimensional and needlessly cruel without offering a motive to their apparent cruelty.
While Scanlan and Newmark both manage some measured and convincing performances, the same can’t be said about the rest of the cast which is headed by Sacha Cordy-Nice as chief school bully Keely. Cordy-Nice is sadly let down by a simplistic and rather predictable screenplay which could have easily benefited from a re-write.
Pin Cushion is in selected cinemas from Friday July 13th.