Lyn (Joanna Scanlan) and daughter Iona (Lily Newmark) are moving house and hugging a plant and the budgie’s cage in the front of the van. Moving seems to be something they’ve done before, maybe a few times. Upon arriving at the new place, Lyn gets their possessions in order and Iona offers to go round the corner and buy some milk. This is the first time we get an idea that something is not quite right and we cannot help but notice that Iona, though dressed like a much younger child, is about 14-years-old.
“Pin Cushion” shows us both the warmth of intense familial love and the cold of social isolation. Lyn was born with a hunch in her back and it has shaped her whole existence, and whilst one might argue that her eccentricity and lack of social skills might be a bigger factor in people’s rejection of her, it’s easy to see that they are products of that difference. Iona, by contrast, is a naturally pretty girl, but prettiness in adolescence isn’t always advantageous. Then there is this difference, and the ambition that surfaces in Iona when she gets a little taste of power that makes it increasingly difficult for them to understand each other.
We follow Lyn’s attempts to make friends (doing everything that advice columnists recommend) and Iona’s attempts to navigate boyfriends, school cliques and being cool. Writer/director Deborah Haywood draws the viewer into the film and to share Iona’s embarrassment about her mother’s behavior and only later recognize the unthinking cruelty of it. Iona herself is both victimizer and victim, trying to find her place in the world.
Haywood finds comedy in the absurdity and the hypocrisies of suburban life bleakest situations. Both leads deliver assured performances and the supporting cast is strong emphasizing that when Iona has the potential for real friendship it’s quietly visible alongside the dramatics of the main plot. The film will no doubt be too quirky for some and too disturbing for others, but it’s well made, bold and inventive.
Iona and her meek, hunchbacked mother Lyn were hoping for a new start in a new town, but the hostile welcome they receive strains their formerly close relationship. Iona and Lyn love birds and cats and stuff with lace and little cake things. Dad is out of the picture and never remarked on, so it is just them. Iona is eager to make friends, but through her imagination, she has visualized fast friendships that aren’t realistic. In fact, they leave her vulnerable to the predatory manipulations of Keeley, the queen bee of her class. Just for kicks, Keeley sets her up for a fall, leaving her a disgraced social pariah. Sadly, Lyn fares little better with her efforts to make friends among the snotty, rough-hewn neighbors.
This is often a hard film to watch, especially in light of the terrible stories of bullying we have today. Human beings can only take so much. We can see both mother and daughter reaching that point in “Pin Cushion” and it is harrowing to watch.