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Cashback (A Movie Review)

Updated: Aug 4, 2022




Starring Sean Biggerstaff, Emilia Fox, Shaun Evans, Michelle Ryan, Stuart Goodwin, Michael Dixon, Michael Lambourne, Marc Pickering and Nick Hancock.

Screenplay by Sean Ellis.

Directed by Sean Ellis.

Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.  102 minutes.  Rated R.

Unrequited love is never so interesting to anyone else as it is to the victim.  We’ve all been through it.  You are miserable for a while, sulk, feel sorry for yourself.  Your friends avoid you because you’re such a downer… or try to get you laid so you’ll get back in the game.  Eventually, you do meet someone else and move on.

It may be a pain in the ass to live through in real life, yet literature, music and film love exploring the tragic depths of love gone wrong or not reciprocated.

Ben Willis (Sean Biggerstaff), the hero of the new British film Cashback, takes his depression to extreme levels.  After impulsively breaking up with the woman he loves (Michelle Ryan) because he fears he can’t make her happy, he is horrified that she accepts the break and moves on to a new boyfriend in a matter of days.  After that, Ben mopes around his art school, obsessively drawing and thinking of his ex, Suzy.  He loses all ability to sleep, a bout of insomnia which lasts for over four weeks.

Finally, tired of being alone with his thoughts in the middle of the night, Ben decides to take a job at an all-night grocery store.  In the store you get all the typical types; Jenkins, the self-important manager (Stuart Goodwin), Barry and Matt, the goofball slackers (Michael Dixon and Michael Lambourne), Brian, the cleaning boy who fancies himself a kung fu master (Marc Pickering) and Sharon, the pretty, underachieving cashier (Emilia Fox).

Each one of them has different ways of making the eight long hours of the graveyard shift go a little longer.  They goof off, try to ignore the passage of time by refusing to look at watches and clocks, joke around and flirt with customers.  Ben has an even more interesting way of passing the time, by imagining that he is literally stopping it.

While a fascinating conceit, I have to admit, though, I’m not sure what to make of the time-stoppage scenes.  The first time the idea is broached Ben suggests that it is merely a fantasy — a technique which his fatigued mind grabs onto to make the time on the job go faster.  At first Ben uses the power in typical guy ways, undressing the women who are shopping at the grocery store, setting up chain reactions which will embarrass co-workers.  Soon he comes to find it as a way to hide, to observe beauty in silence, even as an artist he uses it as a source for the ultimate unmoving figure models.  However, as the film goes on the scenes keep recurring, even suggesting that others have the power to live in this silent, still world.

Not that it isn’t a great conceit, one that has been taken advantage of in literature that was good (John T. McDonald’s The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything) and bad (Nicholas Baker’s The Fermata) and in many movies, most recently Adam Sandler’s horrible Click.  However, in these other versions, there was some kind of trigger to the pausing of time, a watch or a remote control or something which imparts the power.  In Cashback, it just seems that Ben wills time to stop and it simply does.

With the plot and characters, Cashback has all of the earmarks of a comedy (in fact, if you get technical the storyline and characters are extremely similar to last year’s greatly inferior American comedy Employee of the Month.).  Cashback even does have some very funny moments, but it is much more subtle, serious and dramatic than you would originally expect.

Cashback is a full-length version of an Oscar nominated short film by the same name by former photographer Sean Ellis.  Unlike most examples of a slight story pumped up beyond its original conceit like this, there is enough story here to keep the audience’s interest.  He adds the characters’ backstories (in fact Ben periodically gives a rather complete history of his romantic and sexual awakenings, complete with flashbacks), fantasy sequences, an out-of-control party, even a comic football match.  There is also added a sweet and surprisingly touching relationship between the tortured artist and the shy cashier — one that allows them both to move on to better things.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007  All rights reserved.  Posted: July 9, 2007.

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