Published Apr 19, 2018Deborah Haywood's Pin Cushion moves between gauzy fantasy and harsh reality, even as the stark real world doesn't always feel recognizably real. Iona (Lily Newmark) is in a new school, trying to make friends, and floundering. Her imagination keeps interrupting with teenage fantasies of everything working out and everyone adoring her. Back in the real world, things aren't much more grounded — they're just grimmer. In the same classes where Iona is daydreaming, there's a scene of students laughing cartoonishly through a lesson on the Holocaust.
Iona is half of a pair who can't help but stand out in Pin Cushion's world. She comes to town with her mother, Lyn (Joanna Scanlan) along with their bird. They're unusually close, even sleeping together in the same bed despite Iona being a teen, and odd by the town's standards, in no small part because of their bright, thrift-store style. Lyn has a hump that, by her sensitivity to it and the treatment of her new neighbours, you can imagine has set her apart from those around her for her whole life, while Iona's naïveté immediately makes her a target of the popular clique in school.
Both wind up faced with outsized aggressions. Iona's classmates put her through every trick the gullible and open-hearted can go through, and she falls for them in the hope she'll be accepted. She even begins to push her mother away, a usual teenage stage Lyn doesn't seem emotionally equipped to deal with.
Lyn's got her own struggles –– she doesn't have much social ease, but it's a question if that would even help, given how she's treated from the outset. She's hit with bold forms of awful, the worst being when she's coerced into an assertiveness class exercise across from the person tormenting her the most. If the promise for some of leaving high school is to get away from personal attacks, Pin Cushion says that for some, it won't end there.
These characters escaping to fantasy feels natural, but contributes to the challenging blend of tones the film aims for. The soundtrack is filled with whimsical musings and vocal la las, and some scenes have hints of comic exaggeration, even if nothing's laugh-out-loud funny. At the same time, this movie draws blood and can turn ugly. The two have some trouble sitting beside each other. Iona and Lyn look for magical escape from their circumstances; the film never escapes into one or the other, flitting between a gut punch and quirk in no time, a transition that's emotionally difficult.