Last fall I eagerly awaited the release of Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep. I was intrigued by the artistic creations shown in the film’s trailer. However, upon seeing the film, I felt as if all these cardboard cutouts ran their course rather quickly in the film. In the end, they seemed to serve as filler for a poorly made film. Recently, however, I came across another romance/drama/comedy that promised a venture outside the ordinary. Where The Science of Sleep overflowed with imaginative elements, thus distracting from the story, Cashback uses its leap into fantasy to drive the story forward and thus encourages greater audience participation and imagination.
Cashback, directed by Sean Ellis, tells the story of Ben Willis (Sean Biggerstaff), a young British art student who has recently broken up with his girlfriend. This angry breakup causes Ben to suffer an extreme case of insomnia which he combats by getting a nightshift job at the local Sainsbury’s, a British grocery store chain. Here, he meets a variety of characters, including Sharon, a cashier, with whom he quickly develops a love interest. Ben notices that each of his coworkers have their own way of making the nighttime pass quickly, so he develops a strategy of his own. Rather than rushing through the night, Ben chooses to imaginatively freeze time. Ironically, when he unfreezes it, his shift has progressed. Ben uses this ability to take a closer look at his surroundings and to ponder the ideas of beauty and love.
While this film worked better for me than The Science of Sleep, it is not without its own shortcomings. Ben spends most of his frozen time undressing the women in the aisles of the grocery store to more closely examine their beauty. The film tries to ease this trespass with his identity as an art student who frequently studies and sketches nude figures. The problem here for me is that every single woman in the film looks absolutely stunning, like well-placed supermodels. Of course, this could all be part of Ben’s fantastical ability to freeze time; however, I doubt that there have ever been so many gorgeous women in one British grocery store in the history of grocery stores or women. Moreover, when Ben meets Sharon, she initially looks like a “normal,” unassuming young woman. However, as the film progresses she too seems to morph into another supermodel over which Ben can obsess.
Along with undressing these women, Ben also contemplates the ideas of love and beauty. At the end of the film, he concludes, “Once upon a time, I wanted to know what love was. Love is there if you want it to be. You just have to see that it’s wrapped in beauty and hidden away between the seconds of your life. If you don’t stop for a minute, you might miss it.” This is an encouraging soliloquy to be sure; however, his actions to this point do not necessarily support this assertion. He might have been more honest in saying that “it’s wrapped in and hidden away in clothes” or, more to the point, “it’s often right there in front of you in the face of a supermodel.” The beauty that Ben philosophizes about seems to be nothing more than skin deep. While we are cursorily led into Sharon’s personality, we see little more than her desire to visit South America to pursue a photography hobby. While Ben obviously has no romantic interest in his egotistical, loser boss or his slacker male coworkers, we see nothing of the potential beauty in their lives, or his own for that matter.
Despite these flaws, Cashback is still an enjoyable film, and the aforementioned boss and male coworkers add some great moments of comic relief. Given the increasingly fast-paced, superficial world in which we live, the film’s message to slow down and take a closer look is a much-needed reminder, even if the film doesn’t necessarily practice what it preaches.
Cashback (102 mins.) is available on DVD and is rated R for nudity, sexual content, and language.