Pin Cushion

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Pin Cushion
"With a keen eye for absurdity and the hypocrisies of suburban life, Haywood finds comedy in the bleakest situations."

When children get bullied at school, adults usually say, "Don't worry. It'll get better." But what if it never does? Sometimes all the love in the world isn't enough to make it feel okay, especially at that stage when teenagers and their parents are naturally growing apart.

We meet Lyn (Joanna Scanlan) and daughter Iona (Lily Newmark) when they're moving house, hugging a plant and the budgie's cage in the front of the van. We get the feeling this is something they've done before, perhaps a few times. On arrival at the new place, Lyn gets their possessions in order whilst Iona offers to go round the corner and buy some milk. "On your own?" asks Lyn. It's the first real indicator that something is amiss. Iona, though dressed like a much younger child, is about 14.

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Mixing observational humour with subject matter at times so dark that all the plush toys and pottery ornaments in the world can't stop it feeling like Last Exit To Scunthorpe, Pin Cushion segues between the warmth of intense familial love and the glacial cold of complete social isolation. Lyn was born with a hunch in her back. 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 them as products of that difference. Iona, by contrast, is a naturally - if not quite conventionally - pretty girl, but prettiness in adolescence isn't always advantageous. Furthermore, this difference, and the ambition that surfaces in Iona when she gets a little taste of power, make it increasingly difficult for them to understand each other.

As we follow Lyn's attempts to make friends (doing everything that advice columnists recommend) and Iona's attempts to navigate the difficult business of boyfriends, school cliques and being cool, writer/director Deborah Haywood shows a real gift for drawing the viewer into complicity. It's easy to share Iona's embarrassment about her mother's behaviour and only later recognise the unthinking cruelty of it; easy to laugh at the behaviour of neighbours and realise too late how much damage it's doing. Iona herself is both victimiser and victim, trying to find her place in the world. What seem like childish games can all too easily turn into violence, and nobody really seems to grow more civilised with age.

With a keen eye for absurdity and the hypocrisies of suburban life, Haywood finds comedy in the bleakest situations. Both leads deliver assured performances and the supporting cast are also strong, so that when Iona encounters the potential for real friendship it's quietly visible alongside the dramatics of the main plot. Thalia Ecclestone's art direction and Andy Blake's costume design round out the characters and give them a rich sense of history. The film will no doubt be too quirky for some and too disturbing for others, but it's a finely crafted, bold and inventive piece of work.

Reviewed on: 12 Jul 2018
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Trouble brews after the unusually close bond between a mother and daughter is disrupted when they move to a new town.


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