Archive Review: Cashback (2006)

I discovered “Cashback” this summer and was mesmerized by its blend of genres throwing in a little sci-fi/fantasy to go in with the romantic comedy. If you like indie romance, read the rest of my review below.

Based on his Oscar-nominated short film of the same name, Sean Ellis’ “Cashback” is an elegant and funny independent film mixing elements of drama, comedy, romance and fantasy. Musing on the relationship between the speed of life and love, “Cashback” is an artist’s rendition of a familiar romance formula.

“Cashback” begins like every other romantic comedy, with its main character Ben (Sean Biggerstaff, best known as Oliver Wood from the first couple Harry Potter movies) getting dumped by his girlfriend, launching him into insomnia and unrelenting personal reflection in the form of narrative. But Ben is an aspiring portrait artist, so Ellis, like his protagonist, reflects that appreciation for imagery in his direction, giving every scene stylishness and grace.

Ellis moves the camera in fascinating ways that capture our attention, making so many shots and sequences have an epic quality. At the same time, it’s interesting that the film uses so much narrative, making it seem more literary, almost a memoir even, yet Ellis never leans on this writing — so many images stand out memorably.

The fantasy angle of the film comes in when Ben discovers he can slow down and pause time for as long as he likes, a skill he learns at the local Sainsbury’s supermarket where he’s taken up night hours to make use of his lack of sleep. A long-time connoisseur of the female form, Ben freezes time to draw women in the supermarket, often times nude, yet he reserves some modesty when drawing his new crush, Sharon (Emilia Fox), one of the store clerks. Ellis perfectly captures these images of Ben’s affection and the result is that we see the beauty that Ben sees.

“Cashback” is very sexually forward, unafraid but not gratuitous or obnoxious in its use of nudity or sexual reference. Its sense of humor comes mostly in the form simple things like quirky characters and clever one-liners or quick shots. Its humor relies on the viewer finding it endearing and lovable.

The movie is also a meditation on time and love, giving us something to think about more so than letting us draw our own meaning. What usually happens is that just as we have surmised our own understanding, more narration comes in speaking of new ideas and we’re sort of left confused. Other times, the narration adds key thoughts to our heads that add meaning to what comes next.

Boiled down, “Cashback” is a really fresh take on the boy gets broken up with, does something as a result, finds new girl and struggles to make sense of love in the meantime. Adding in the simple fantasy element of time control, it manages to look at what we’ve seen in movies in ways we’ve never really seen them before, which dresses up the romance clichés quite nicely.

4/5 Stars

Directed by: Sean Ellis
Written by: Sean Ellis
Starring: Sean Biggerstaff, Emilia Fox


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