Review: Cashback (2006)

Netflix is now offering a service where you can watch movies instantly on your home computer. I am not sure how but they offer this service at no charge above their monthly rate. Their selections are somewhat limited compared to all the movies you can rent, but it sure is convenient. Moreover, you can watch as many movies online as you want. Since I tend to like independent and foreign films I thought I would try my first online Netflix by watching the British film Cashback.

Sean Biggerstaff plays Ben Willis, an art major. Ben is an introverted and sensitive artist who is devastated when he is dumped by his steady girlfriend of more than two years, Suzy (Michelle Ryan). One consequence is that he becomes an insomniac. Eventually he decides that as long as he is awake and is a poor college student, he might as well earn some money. So he takes a night shift job at the local twenty four hour supermarket.

Ben is definitely not your typical early twenties young adult. Although he appears somewhat scrawny, he is a deeply sensitive and caring soul. Except for his lack of rippling muscles and his career prospects, he should be every woman’s idea of a great boyfriend. His artistic inclinations help him peer beyond the façade that most people exhibit and see their underlying humanity. He is particularly enamored with beautiful women and feels driven to capture their inner beauty in his drawings.

Unfortunately, Ben spends most of his life surrounded by crude and boorish men. This problem only worsens when he begins working at the supermarket. The store is full of characters, from the night manager to the shelf stockers all of whom have yet to emerge into adult emotional maturity. They may be crude and boorish, but each is memorable in their own way so they provide good entertainment. Working the night shift though is tough. Hours pass interminably. Ben’s own strategy to deal with the boredom is to freeze time. Whether it happens in fact or is a figment of his imagination is unclear. While people are in this frozen state, Sean is free to go around and examine them closely, and to draw sketches of them. He is so captured by beauty that while women are in a frozen state he will undress them to sketch them better. If you appreciate beautiful young women, there are plenty here to admire in both a partially and fully undressed state. There are also numerous flashbacks to Ben’s childhood, which help explain his obsession with beauty and the female form, as well as his somewhat different outlook on human sexuality.

For weeks, Ben seems unable to emerge from his funk over being dumped by Suzy, and appears to be one of the walking dead. Perhaps this accounts for his ability to freeze time. Only one woman appears to work at his supermarket at night, Sharon (Emilia Fox). She is the cashier and most of the time, she too seems to be one of the walking dead. Over time, Sean becomes interested in Sharon, although it takes a long time for the two to connect in any meaningful romantic fashion. As they do, Ben begins to sleep again.

The premise of this movie seems weak, but it is surprisingly engaging. I have tried to put my own years working retail into the form of a novel, but never got too far. If you are looking for a movie that captures the feelings of working retail (an experience common to many of us) this one should fill the bill. Of course, life working at the supermarket is merely a frame for a larger story about love, its nature and how it is experienced. The metaphor of freezing time works really well in conveying Ben’s feelings, which would be hard to capture any other way. At its core, this is a movie about the emotional pain and devastation that accompanies romantic breakups. It is also about how the human heart is healed from this experience. As this is a relatively unexplored aspect of love on film, this movie will give you some things to chaw over.

All the characters in this movie are memorable and each faithfully portray their characters. Director and Writer Sean Ellis does a nice job of portraying Ben’s sad and poignant reality, and adds some interesting visual tricks that merge past and present. Cashback surprised me because it turned out to be a much better movie than its premise suggested. It was doubtless shot on a modest budget yet the movie paints a broader and more interesting canvas than its modest plot would suggest. In short, be prepared to inhabit Ben’s world. You will both enjoy and grow from the journey.

3.3 on my 4.0 scale.

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