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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

CASHBACK -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE:  This review was first posted at in 2006.)

CASHBACK (2006) is a strange combination of two things: a raucous comedy, and a sensitive journey through the romantic fantasy world of an emotionally-wounded young emo. 

Art college student Ben Willis (Sean Biggerstaff) is so introspective, artistic, and sensitive, in fact, that girls who gush over guys like that should be huddled around him with spoons, scarfing him down like a giant banana split.  But he's lost and lonely because he just broke up with his girlfriend, Suzy (Michelle Ryan), after sadly telling her he didn't think he could make her happy. 

Telling this out of the blue to the girl you love doesn't make much sense, but I suppose that, instinctively, Ben must have realized he'd just become the main character in a bittersweet slapstick romantic comedy-drama and needed to do something to jump-start the plot.

Suzy heaves a lamp at him and jumps into bed with another guy, driving Ben into an ever-darkening abyss of poignant emotional turmoil with the realization that Suzy's absence has rent a gaping wound filled with ever-aching despair into the very fabric of his agonized soul.

For awhile there, you sorta wish Ben would just grab a straight razor and put himself out of your misery, but he hangs in there long enough to make the life-altering decision to get a job working the night shift in a grocery store.  He does this mainly because extreme Suzy-related angst has made it impossible for him to sleep, and he needs to do something to pass that extra eight hours of waking time that have been tacked onto each day.  Travis Bickle drove a cab--Ben cleans up on aisle four.

The plot thickens as our butts inch inexorably toward the edges of our seats.  Ben meets and becomes enamored with a nice checkout girl named Sharon (Emilia Fox), and we breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they'll end up together and Ben will finally be over what's-er-name once and for all.  (It may sound like I'm giving too much away, but really--this ain't THE SIXTH SENSE.) 

Sure, they'll have to cutely get to know each other first, tentatively grow closer, and then have a falling out after which Sharon never wants to see him again, but the certainty that they'll get together again right in time for the fade-out is as vital an ingredient in the recipe for this kind of movie as eggs are to omelets. 

The raucous comedy omelets--sorry,  elements--which shoehorn themselves into all this dreamy romantic stuff are provided by Ben's coworkers, internet bicycle-daredevil Barry (Michael Dixon) and nerdy would-be ladies' man Matt (Michael Lambourne).  These guys have scooter races up and down the aisles when the boss isn't looking, lurk on the high shelves and taunt passersby from behind large packages of toilet paper, hurl merchandise at each other, and stick salamis out of their flies--anything to help get them through those interminable eight hours of their shifts. 

To top it all off, Ben even has a best friend named Sean (Shaun Evans) who is the standard sex-obsessed Don Juan who freely dispenses faulty relationship advice which more often than not results in drinks being hurled in his face.  These characters are amusing enough to allow the script to get as sappy as it wants to and still have something to goose us awake now and then.

Ben's boss, Jenkins (Stuart Goodwin), adds to the funny with his self-important buffoonery.  When he forces his employees to play a soccer (okay, "football") match against another store, the simple fact that they are incredibly incompetent and lose their asses off is kinda funny, but it's not all that funny--it ain't the football sequence from MASH. 

But when Brian suffers a nose-breaking, neck-spraining ball to the face, it gives Ben a good excuse to freeze time and go wandering around amidst the motionless tableaux of waxworks-like people, pondering the philosophical complexities of timelessness.

Oh, I forgot to tell you, didn't I?  Ben has become so introspective and intensely contemplative about time that he can freeze it and experience a single moment for as long as he wants.  It's a very romantic concept--it gives him all the time in the world to gaze at Sharon and draw endless sketches of her while dreamily soaking up her beauty with his eyes and thinking about how "love is wrapped in beauty and hidden away in between the seconds of your life." 

It also allows him to do exactly what I always wanted to do whenever I had the "freezing time" fantasy myself over the years, which is to go around taking women's clothes off, as he does during one sequence in the store.  But aside from the obvious vicarious thrill this conjures up,  there's a hushed, haunting surrealism to the scene that is very compelling. 

And after baring the naughty bits of several female customers, Ben begins to lovingly sketch them, because, as an artist, he appreciates the female form in a deeply artistic way.  This is where our versions of the fantasy differ, as mine have rarely included sketching. 

There's quite a bit of nakidity here for you nakidity fans--yes, this includes strippers--and even more when Ben flashes back to his childhood and the beginnings of his obsession with the female form.  These wistful recollections range from funny to genuinely moving, but my favorite is the one where he recalls the Swedish foreign exchange student that briefly lived with his family, as she strolls stark naked from the bathroom and up the stairs to her room.  ("I wanted to freeze the world so I could live in that moment for a week," he tells us, and I wouldn't mind spending a week's vacation there myself.)  It's a brief scene, but with DVD technology one is actually able to "freeze time" and intensely contemplate such moments--just like Ben does!  (Sketching is optional.) 

Sean Ellis' direction and Angus Hudson's cinematography are deft and imaginative throughout, especially in the surprising visual tricks he uses to link some of the scenes together.  One particularly good one shows Ben hanging up the phone after hearing some bad news about Suzy, then slowly drifting backward across the room and into his bedroom, which is situated in such a way that Ben is now being lowered onto his bed from above, where he goes right into the old "can't sleep" routine without missing a beat--all in one shot. 

The pace is obstinately slow, but if you're into the story you should make it to the end without any trouble.  Ben's extreme emo-ness, especially in the first half, would be simply intolerable if Ellis had chosen to load up the soundtrack with emo tunes as many other filmmakers would have--fortunately, he uses a variety of well-chosen classical pieces augmented by an original orchestral score by Guy Farley, and later on inserts a segment of one of my favorite Frankie Goes To Hollywood songs, "The Power of Love", at just the right moment.

The DVD includes the Oscar-nominated short film that was the basis for this feature.  It consists mainly of the sequence in which Ben freezes time in the supermarket, and is pretty much exactly the same footage used in the movie--so you don't get two versions of the same sequence to compare as you do with the short film "Some Call It A Sling Blade" and its later revision as a  pre-titles introduction to the feature, SLING BLADE.  The supermarket scene, isolated in this way and without all the extraneous stuff, takes on an added fascination and significance, and one can appreciate its strange beauty in a different light.  A "making-of" featurette shows CASHBACK's progression from Best Short Film at the Tribeca Film Festival to full-length feature.

CASHBACK is such an odd hybrid of diverse elements that you'll probably either throw up a little while watching it, or find yourself rather enjoying it.  I think it would be perfect for couples who like to read Harlequin romances and Penthouse Forum together, or switch channels back and forth between "Mad About You" and Skin-emax.  The fact that it's so well-made helps considerably.  And the snowflakes-frozen-in-time ending is so dreamily romantic that you'll either be captivated by it or sick to your stomach.  Or a little of both.  Which is a surreal feeling, let me tell you.

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