×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Pin Cushion’

A moving, complex mother-daughter study is occasionally swamped by the hyper-twee styling of Deborah Haywood's thoroughly singular debut.

Director:
Deborah Haywood
With:
Joanna Scanlan, Lily Newmark, Chanel Creswell, Sacha Cordy-Nice, Loris Scarpa, Bethany Antonia, Saskia Page Martin, Isy Suttie, Bruce Jones, John Henshaw, Nadine Coyle.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6190348/

Cinema was littered with tales of teenage mean girls well before Tina Fey put a tidy name to their ilk in 2004 — rarer, however, are stories that extend their reign of terror decades past the prom. Achingly fragile and genuinely, preciously peculiar, British writer-director Deborah Haywood’s first feature “Pin Cushion” ambitiously examines the psychological damage wrought by bullying at all ages, admitting the painful truth that for some of those mean girls and their beleaguered victims, growing older does not mean growing up. Given human grounding by the wonderful Joanna Scanlan, as a timidly eccentric single mother seeing her naive adolescent daughter slip into the same hellish social no-woman’s-land from which she has never escaped, Haywood’s filmmaking itself marches to a different drummer. That’s a mixed blessing: Cinematically, “Pin Cushion” goes all in on a heightened, macramé-and-macaroons aesthetic that occasionally smothers the rawer nerves of its storytelling.

Having opened the rarefied Critics’ Week program at Venice before switching things up with a Fantastic Fest berth, Haywood’s classification-resistant debut can look forward to a varied festival run; in distribution terms, however, it seems a likelier prospect for curated streaming platforms than theatrical arthouses. As calling-card features go, “Pin Cushion” may be esoteric and uneven, but it’s not inauspicious: Haywood’s inspired visual acumen and sensitive grasp of complex female relationships could feasibly translate to bigger, broader canvases.

“There is no death, only transformation,” a dubious, leather-trousered psychic tells middle-aged misfit Lyn (Scanlan) midway through the film — rather callous words of encouragement to a woman who has waited decades in vain for transformation of the non-posthumous variety. Cripplingly shy, physically ungainly and entirely friendless, she seemingly lives solely for her teenage daughter Iona (Lily Newmark, in an arresting big-screen debut), with whom she has recently moved to a sleepy English town — trailed by unelaborated whispers of past misfortune and, in Lyn’s case, severe sexual abuse.

Lyn and Iona’s relationship might be described as contentedly dysfunctional: Wrapped up entirely in each other, they share a small double bed as well as every spare social hour, dancing, baking and partaking in the most delicate of handicrafts. If they jointly seem a little too fey for this world, that’s the point — yet while Lyn has successfully fashioned Iona as her mini-me to this point, in hand-knitted bobble hats and baggy cat-lady chic, it’s clear that mother and daughter’s paths are about to diverge.

Newly growing into the kind of rangy, edgy beauty that her mother has never known, Iona is slowly catching wise to the world of boys, makeup and classroom cliques from which Lyn can no longer shield her. She enters a gentle courtship with sweet-natured, curly-mopped Daz (Loris Scarpa) that seems benevolent enough, as Haywood sweetly evokes the awkward early rush of stolen kisses and ballpoint-pen tattoos. More alarming, however, is the interest taken in her by the school’s resident group of Heathers, led by vicious queen bee Keely (Sacha Cordy-Nice), which shifts quickly and suspiciously from toxic taunting to lipgloss-sharing.

It can be no accident that Newmark’s otherworldly features and rich ginger locks prompt nervous memories of Sissy Spacek in “Carrie.” Indeed, “Pin Cushion” sometimes seems to play as a deceptively prettified riff on Brian DePalma’s Stephen King interpretation, its folky reverie increasingly disrupted by nightmarish stabs of violence — a disconcerting tonal imbalance that seems more deliberate at some points than others, and leaves the characters’ most compellingly dark psychological undercurrents frustratingly half-exposed to the end.

In her own hand-knitted way, Lyn may be as oppressive a maternal influence as Piper Laurie’s raging Bible-basher in “Carrie,” but she’s no villain or harridan: “Pin Cushion” is most emotionally piercing in depicting the daily ways in which the world still punishes this loving, mild-as-milk woman for her difference, most gallingly when the local women’s “friendship group” tartly declares that she won’t fit in. Scanlan is an expert at conveying quiet but deep-seated suffering, most poignantly on the sidelines of such films as “The Invisible Woman” and “Girl With a Pearl Earring”; now handed a leading showcase, she makes Lyn’s profound psychic pain vivid enough to cut through the character’s woolly tangle of quirks.

Would that Haywood had a bit more of her leading lady’s acuity. Given a dreamy pastel gauze by cinematographer Nicola Daley, decorated to the pink-patchwork-quilted hilt by production designer Francesca Massariol and scored at a high, wind-chiming jangle by composer Natalie Holt, “Pin Cushion” is impressively of a piece in terms of mise en scène, but risks seeming as stylistically overstuffed as the trinket-strewn cottage Lyn and Iona share. That’s partly by design, as you sense Iona’s identity struggling to escape her mother’s cozy angora embrace, but the film itself could stand to give its characters’ most complicated crises some breathing room.

Film Review: 'Pin Cushion'

Reviewed online, Venice, Sept. 2, 2017. (In Venice Film Festival (Critics' Week — opener), Fantastic Fest.) Running time: 82 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) A British Film Institute, Dignity Film Finance, Rosevine presentation of a Quark Films production. (International sales: Stray Dogs, Paris.) Producers: Gavin Humphries, Maggie Monteith. Executive producers: Josephine Rose, Lizzie Francke, Chris Reed.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Deborah Haywood. Camera (color): Nicola Daley. Editors: Anna Dick, Nick Emerson. Music: Natalie Holt.

With: Joanna Scanlan, Lily Newmark, Chanel Creswell, Sacha Cordy-Nice, Loris Scarpa, Bethany Antonia, Saskia Page Martin, Isy Suttie, Bruce Jones, John Henshaw, Nadine Coyle.

More Film

  • Young Ahmed

    Cannes Film Review: 'Young Ahmed'

    There’s a darkness to “Young Ahmed” that audiences have never seen before in the work of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the gifted Belgian brothers whose profoundly humane, unapologetically realist dramas have twice earned them the Palme d’Or in Cannes. Like surrogate parents to troubled children, the sibling directors have taken on their share of difficult [...]

  • Radegund

    Cannes: Fox Searchlight Nabs Terrence Malick's 'A Hidden Life'

    Fox Searchlight has picked up rights for U.S. and several international territories on Terrence Malick’s contemplative World War II drama “A Hidden Life,” following its enthusiastic reception at the Cannes Film Festival. “A Hidden Life” tells the true story of the Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter, who rejected Adolf Hitler and objected to the war. He [...]

  • China's Zhou Dongyu Is Focusing on

    China's Zhou Dongyu Plans to Focus on Acting, Says Female Roles Improving

    China’s Zhou Dongyu may have taken a recent turn as a producer, but the 27-year-old actress plans to focus on honing her craft in front of the camera rather than branching out too much into other roles behind it. She also believes that female roles are increasing in quantity and quality in China, and is [...]

  • German Films Cocktail Cannes 2019 CannesMay

    Cannes: German Films Celebrates Festival Films at Villa Rothschild

    Pictured: Peter Herrmann, chairman of German Films, Michael Weber of The Match Factory, and Simone Baumann, managing director of German Films. Simone Baumann, the managing director of German Films, celebrated the many German co-productions screening in the Cannes Film Festival at the promotional agency’s cocktail party Saturday at Villa Rothschild in Cannes. “Germany is one [...]

  • Steven Gaydos, Jacob Weydemann, Katriel Schory,

    Variety Celebrates 10 Producers to Watch in Cannes

    CANNES–Variety honored its 10 Producers to Watch for 2019 at a brunch on Monday morning at Cannes’ Plage des Palmes. Launched at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998, the annual event fetes 10 producers from the U.S. and the international film community who share a common commitment to bold, original, provocative storytelling. The films produced by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content