Based at least partially on painful memories from her own youth, British director Deborah Haywood's debut film “Pin Cushion,” which screened at Fantastic Fest, is a thoughtful and occasionally heartbreaking coming-of-age tale.
Iona (Lily Newmark) is in that awkward phase where living a sheltered and relatively naive life with her single, hunchbacked mom, Lyn (Joanna Scanlan), conflicts with her burgeoning hormones and subjects her to teenage bullies. Mother and daughter have recently moved to a new town, and Iona has started at a new school. She is starting to get interested in boys but knows virtually nothing about them, and has never even worn makeup. Lyn has been Iona's only friend and confidant for so long that she doesn't really know how to look out for herself.
A trio of mean girls at school pounce on her, slowly deciding that she's an easy target. They show her how to dress, give her some lip gloss, and essentially throw her into the deep end of the social pool to bewilder her. But she actually navigates things well enough until their cruelty goes too far.
The fact that teenagers can be awful creatures is nothing new, but Haywood gives us the mirrored tale of Lyn's life for us to see the battered and bruised ego of a woman whose unfortunate physical deformity seems to have given everybody around her a license to treat her like dirt. She’s been mistreated most of her life by everyone aside from her daughter, which makes Iona's blossoming social life harder to deal with.
Lyn often wears a Paris sweatshirt, but the cold reality is that she has likely never ventured more than an hour away from where she has lived her entire existence. Dreams are things that other people have; she wraps herself up in the love of her child and animals (both real and photographs of cats and dogs that are pinned to the walls of her home).
"Pin Cushion" cannot easily be categorized. The experience is overwhelmingly melancholy and simultaneously hopeful. You don't know for sure that Iona's life is going to get better, but you're rooting for her every step of the way.
The film does not currently have U.S. distribution but will screen again at Fantastic Fest at 2:45 p.m. Sept. 26.