By Jeannette Catsoulis
July 19, 2018
For her first feature, “Pin Cushion,” the British director Deborah Haywood digs into her own teenage memories and unearths something eccentric, tragic and utterly unclassifiable.
At the center is a relationship of cloying codependency as Iona (Lily Newmark), a pale-faced teenager, and her hunchbacked mother, Lyn (Joanna Scanlan), contentedly share meals, pet names and even a bed. Recently arrived in a small Midlands town, the two are desperate to make friends. But Lyn, mentally slow and physically burdened, invites only the scorn of her neighbors, while Iona, geeky and ginger-haired, is a too-tempting target for the über-mean girls at her new high school. Brutally exploiting her social and sexual naïveté, they enact a campaign of escalating humiliations.
Holding tight to both as they struggle to fit into a community that patently doesn’t want them, Ms. Haywood — who shot the film in her hometown and describes it as “emotionally biographical” — fashions a portrait of mental illness and extreme bullying that can be tough to watch. Deliberately exaggerating every cruelty, she shows how slights are magnified when you’re young or otherwise vulnerable. Backing her up, the cinematographer, Nicola Daley, employs the colors of cartoons to amplify every emotion, overlaying her bright, muscular hues with gauze whenever Iona escapes into dreamy fantasies.
Aligning perfectly with this hyperbole is a blizzard of whimsy in the costumes and set design: The movie looks as if a craft store exploded in Lyn and Iona’s living room. Yet while “Pin Cushion” might prove too distressing for some, it’s still peculiarly, undeniably original. Iona might seem more deserving of your sympathy, but it’s Lyn who could really crack your heart.
Pin Cushion NYT Critic's Pick
Director Deborah Haywood
Writer Deborah Haywood
Stars Lily Newmark, Joanna Scanlan, Loris Scarpa, Sacha Cordy-Nice, Bethany Antonia
Running Time 1h 22m