Aren’t you glad smart phones and social media weren’t around when you were in high school? Unfortunately, cyber-bullying isn’t even the worst of what the physically and emotionally awkward Iona endures from her false frienemies. She and her meek, hunchbacked mother Lyn were hoping for a new start in a new town, but the hostile welcome they receive will strain their formerly close relationship in Deborah Haywood’s Pin Cushion, which screens during the AFI’s 2017 European Union Film Showcase.
Iona and Lyn love birds and cats and stuff with lace and little cake things. Dad is out of the picture and never remarked on, so it is just them. Iona is eager to make friends, but through her imagination, she has visualized fast friendships that maybe aren’t so realistic. In fact, they leave her vulnerable to the predatory manipulations of Keeley, the queen bee of her class. Just for kicks, Keeley sets her up for a fall, leaving her a disgraced social pariah. Sadly, Lyn fares little better with her efforts to make friends among the snotty, rough-hewn neighbors.
Ugh, this is often a hard film to watch, especially in light of the horrific story of cyber-harassment that culminated in the suicide of adult actress August Ames, who committed the sin of opting out of a gig with an actor who also performs in gay videos (apparently, that side of the business has a reputation for less frequent testing, which her tormentors vehemently denied). It is a story that is crossing over into the mainstream, because it illustrates the soulless vindictiveness and supreme self-righteousness of the cyber-lynchers.
Now some of her trolls are trying to backpedal and claim they simply wanted to offer information to counter her misconceptions, but they were still piling on—and they had to know it. Their tone may have varied, but they wanted to make her feel shamed and alone. They succeeded. Human beings can only take so much. We can see both mother and daughter reaching that point in Pin Cushion, which is a harrowing spectacle to witness.
Joanna Scanlon is a well established British screen thesp (she was one of the best things about Ralph Fiennes’ just sort of okay The Invisible Woman), but her performance as Lyn is definitely something of a higher order. She is heartbreaking and exasperating, but ultimately quite unsettling. Likewise, Lily Newmark’s portrayal of Iona definitely tips her as an emerging talent to be reckoned with (like a young Saoirse Ronan). Frankly, Sacha Cordy-Nice also shows future potential star power, as her tormentor Keeley.
Haywood intriguingly uses fairy tale motifs throughout the film, but she takes it in a dark, Brothers Grimm direction. Yet, the human emotions and human cruelties are always very real. There are very light fantastical elements, mostly rooted in dreams, but this film definitely holds a mirror up to modern social norms and pathologies. That is why it stings. This is the kind of film that is riveting to watch once, but nobody will ever want to re-visit. Highly recommended for patrons of social issue films, Pin Cushion screens tomorrow (12/10) and Thursday (12/14), as part of the AFI’s annual EU Film Showcase.