“Hidden away in between the seconds of your life…”
Yes, we’re all very clever. We know that movies are just movies. We can make movies that know they’re movies. We can even make movies that know we know they know they’re movies. At what level of self-awareness does a film finally cancel itself out? When does it cease to mean anything? Here’s a thought—if you just tell a good story, you don’t have to worry about nudging your audience right out of the theatre. They’ll stay, and they’ll pay attention, because they want to know what’s going to happen to the people they care about.
Cashback is a lovely film that doesn’t have much to say about itself; it just wants to take you somewhere special. It wants to show you a good time—give you some laughs, some tension, some heartbreak. This is straight-forward, albeit whimsical, storytelling. You don’t have to be a genre-geek to get it. You just have to have eyes, ears, and some cognitive ability.
An aspiring artist (Ben) goes through a traumatic break-up, can’t sleep, and decides to use his eight extra hours to make some cash. He gets a job at a local grocery store where he and his co-workers get up to all sorts of crazy shenanigans. Eventually, he develops a crush on one of his co-workers—Sharon. Oh, and he can stop time.
Now, being an artist and a straight male, he’s obsessed with the female form. So, naturally, he undresses some of the ladies while they are frozen in time. This scenario sounds overtly lecherous, but it’s presented with such unabashed romanticism that I was charmed. Sure, it is a straight male fantasy—so what? It is a point of view. The media is over-saturated with this particular point of view, but that doesn’t mean that every instance of it is oppressive and demeaning. Let’s be honest—if you could stop time, wouldn’t you take a peek at someone you found attractive?
There are brief yet insightful flashbacks to Ben’s childhood. There are no heavy traumatic experiences, but the moments are formative and resonant. They suggest that Ben’s fascination with women hasn’t developed much beyond his awestruck childhood. While this is a certainly a shortcoming, I didn’t feel inclined to judge him too harshly. His perceptions may be immature, but his attitude and behaviour isn’t derogatory or abusive and his fascination is at least all-encompassing—he is equally enthralled with the specifics of personality as with physical attributes.
The film opens with a highly stylized slow-motion break-up from Ben’s first real girlfriend—Suzy. At first, we assume that she has initiated the break-up—she’s furious and violent. It is later revealed that it was Ben that initiated the break-up by suggesting he “could never make her happy.” You can understand her anger at such a statement. It is a passive-aggressive ploy for validation. Despite the ugliness of the scene, it is inevitable and the best thing for both of them. They are both young and immature, and the relationship would eventually run its course.
Enter Sharon. Her face has a sharp-featured classic look—long and thick hair with a wavy style reminiscent of a 70s bombshell. Her personality and appearance are striking and persuasive—inspiring Ben the artist—and seem to suggest that she is more of an engaging presence, more right for him. She seems somewhat older than Ben, and represents an ideal of maturity to which he can aspire.
The stopping-of-time sequences are convincing, and do not have that synthetic CGI quality that makes so many modern special effects feel cartoonish. Except for some very brief shots, the director opts for live-action visuals with the actors in tableaux. When Ben interacts with the people in these scenes, their physicality is natural. You can tell the actors are just standing very still. While this mise-en-scène defies the conceptual realities of such a phenomenon as stopped-time, it lends a verisimilitude to these sequences. Are these sequences just Ben’s fantasy? It really doesn’t matter. He experiences this phenomenon, and his experience is all we have; it is therefore as real as anything can be.
At the end of the film, he is able to share the experience with Sharon. This vision and the sharing of it is the essence of the story—the essence of Ben’s identity as an artist and lover. That is what we strive to do in art and love—share a vision of life. Regardless of any commercial acceptance, Ben has proven himself a successful artist and lover. His story illustrates the value of watchfulness—without it, we risk missing opportunities to experience beauty and love.
Director: Sean Ellis
Writer: Sean Ellis
Stars: Sean Biggerstaff, Emilia Fox, Michelle Ryan