British writer-director Deborah Haywood makes her feature film debut with “Pin Cushion” the story of an extremely close mother and daughter who decide to start over in a new town.
The naive pair resembles lambs walking into a lions’ den as they encounter the callous townsfolk of Swadlincote in Derbyshire, England. This tragic version of “Lady Bird” pushes the audience to the limit but in the end, it’s the first-class performances by Joanna Scanlan and Lily Newmark that prove to be rewarding.
Haywood took her childhood experiences of being bullied and used them to craft a film that is brutally honest. Anyone that has ever been oppressed can relate with middle-aged Lyn (Joanna Scanlon) and her teenage daughter, Iona (Lily Newmark) who become pushovers at the hands of snobby neighbor Belinda (Chanel Cresswell) and a trio of high school mean girls led by queen bee Keeley (Sacha Cordy-Nice).
The film opens with the optimistic duo moving into their new home. They celebrate by dancing which is followed by a quick stroll into town where they window shop and glance at the pet store kittens.
Back home Lyn and Iona make crafts, eat dinner, and sleep together in the same bed. They are too close for comfort as Lyn treats Iona like a small child instead of a young woman, think “Carrie” minus the religious overtones.
As Iona heads out for her first day of school, Lyn offers her a shot of liquor to prepare her for what’s sure to be a disappointing day.
Of course, the school is ruled by Haywood’s version of the “plastics,” a trio of popular girls who take in Iona only to eventually manipulate and then humiliate the wide-eyed red-haired teenager.
Makeup, drinking, and boys enter the picture as Iona grows apart from her mother and begins transforming into one of the mean girls. Lyn is not assertive enough to do anything about her daughter’s downward spiral, she can’t enough work up enough courage to demand her ladder back from neighbor Belinda who calls her ugly and slams the door in her face.
Matters escalate quickly from bad to worse as Haywood piles adversity upon adversity on the mother-daughter giving the audience a sense of what these women are going through by testing our endurance. It’s painful to watch at times but the performances by Scanlan and Newmark are captivating.
“Pin Cushion” feels like a quirky fairy tale thanks to all the eccentricities. Lyn is a hunchback who feeds an imaginary cat while Iona fantasizes that her mother is a beautiful flight attendant (played by Nadine Coyle in the dream sequences).
Their cozy home is adorned with figurines and pink walls, the rich colors brighten up the film’s cloudy atmosphere. It’s a story filled with heartbreak featuring devastating performances by Joanna Scanlan and Lily Newmark.
Opens in select theaters Friday, July 20, 2018