BUFF20, Film, Film Review

BUFF20 REVIEW: Pin Cushion (2017) dir. Deborah Haywood


Pin Cushion is a stylish little movie in the vein of the coming of age genre it riffs on, while remaining wholly singular. It tells the story of a teenage girl, Iona, and her mother, Lyn, as they move to a new a town and experience a break in their intimate relationship. At movie’s start, the two are a close pair, even going so far as to share the same bed. Both are, likewise, presented as eccentric outcasts, hence the need for each other. Iona is a shy, young girl not very socially adept when it comes to peers, despite her strong desire to fit in and be “cool.” Lyn is just as socially inept, while also having a hunchback. As her daughter builds a structure of illusion in order to fit in with the popular clique, Lyn retreats into lies and her own personal shame and trauma to protect herself from the growing distance between herself and her daughter. Throughout the movie, mother and daughter discover that bullies come in all ages and that lies can backfire in unexpected, horrifying ways.

Pin Cushion plays off of its familiar genre tropes, presenting Mean Girls, Heathers, and Clueless filtered through writer and director Deborah Haywood’s unique vision. From Haywood and cinematographer Nicola Daley, the high school hellscape is gauzily, stylistically lit with a color board reminiscent of Jacques Demy, Wes Anderson, or, particularly, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Taken all together, the heavy stylization tends to keep the spectator at arm’s length, forever aware that what we are watching is akin to fantasy, to fairy tale.

In this respect, of fantasies and fairy tales, Haywood’s Pin Cushion is similar to a Helen Oyeyemi novel, or even Stephen King’s Carriea Cinderella update if there ever was oneutilizing the fantastic and violent trappings of a fairy tale to tell stories that comment on the everyday. Stories of daughters who pull away from their mothers, of friends, enemies, and everyone in between, and of the lies we tell ourselves and each other in order to pretend that the things we want are actually worthwhile. The same way that, in Clueless, Amy Heckerling painted her ’90s teenage girl vision onto a Jane Austen marriage plot, Haywood goes by way of the Grimm brothers or Angela Carter to tell her tale of modern teenage girlhood, incorporating fantastical interludes into a world seemingly real.

Pin Cushion is a strong first feature from Deborah Haywood, with captivating imagery and nuanced performances from her mostly young cast. Of exceptional mention are the fantasy sequences that young Iona loses herself into. The lies and stories that she tells herself to explain away the cruelty, loneliness, and disappointment that come with the high school experience are made visceral by the production design and the camera. Whether it’s a perfect pop sheen or a steamy jungle, the film has a smart visual eye for expressing the moods and desires of these characters, as well as the illusions and lies Iona and her mother tell each other, whether in scenes of fantasy or realism. In one memorable scene, Lyn walks up to Iona’s supposed best friend with gratitude over a gift. We see, behind the duo, in big graffiti font: “Iona is a slag.” Lyn, of course, is blind to this, continuing with effusive gratitude. She is trapped in her own illusions just as much as her worldview is shaped by her daughter’s lies.

Haywood, more often than not, confidently shows her story in ways both surprising and functional. Her visual finesse does occasionally beleaguer the story being told, though, with characters getting lost or overwhelmed in the hyper-stylized world they walk through. Regardless, Haywood’s eye is distinct, and her storytelling and characterization is compelling when given room to breathe. Whatever her next project may be, Pin Cushion is an interesting first feature film from Deborah Haywood.

Pin Cushion
dir. Deborah Haywood
82 min.

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