Eugene Weekly : Movies : 11.08.07


Sketches For My Sweetheart
Making time for beauty

CASHBACK: Written and directed by Sean Ellis. Cinematography, Angus Hudson. Music, Guy Farley. Starring Sean Biggerstaff, Emilia Fox, Shaun Evans, Michelle Ryan and Stuart Goodwin. Magnolia Pictures, 2007. R. 102 minutes.

Hey, this isn’t Hogwarts: Sean Biggerstaff as Ben Willis in Cashback

If you could stop time for everyone but yourself, what would you do? Chances are it’s something other than freezing the world during work and drawing your colleagues and/or customers, but that’s one of the things that appeals to young, heartbroken Ben Willis (Sean Biggerstaff, also known as quidditch captain Oliver Wood in the first two Harry Potter films) in Cashback, a film which began life as an Oscar-nominated short. Ben, an art student, has recently ended his relationship with his sultry-eyed girlfriend Suzy (Michelle Ryan, currently of Bionic Woman). It sounds like he calls it off with her, but she’s the one who throws a lamp at Ben’s head, and he’s the one mooning around on his skinny little bum. Ben can’t sleep, and in his endless insomnia, he does two things: One, he takes a job at a supermarket. And two, he discovers he can stop time.

Or at least he pretends he can, using this fantasy to pass the time during work. Ben’s coworkers have their own means of dealing with the tedium: Sharon (Emilia Fox) hides from the heartless clock; manager Jenkins (Stuart Goodwin) takes himself too seriously; two immature jokers find endless amusement in things that most definitely do not fall under the heading “work.” Ben, whose story wanders in and out of his childhood via interesting visual transitions, thinks mostly about sex and beauty and, in an almost painfully naïve way, the intersection of the two.

How you respond to Cashback will likely, in part, depend on whether you view Ben’s frozen moments as a magical reality or as a product of his imagination. If he can really stop time, his hours spent sketching female customers, their skirts and shirts tugged around their motionless bodies to reveal as much of their figures as possible, are rather creepy; plenty of reviewers have found this notion a little pervy and misogynistic. But if it’s all in Ben’s head, there’s something sad about these scenes, in which Ben’s artistic talent is stuck under the soulless imagery he picked up from a friend’s parents’ porn mags. Ben wants to see the beauty in the everyday, but his vision is limited.

In this view, Cashback is a story of artistic awakening, one pieced together with a few fairytale plot turns and a dose of the magic of love. Trapped in his head one way or the other, Ben slowly starts to see things and people differently — including his sweet coworker Sharon. There are few surprises in this tale beyond the beautiful frozen scenes through which Ben walks, and there are also a few rough spots in writer-director Sean Ellis’ hastily-written film (long, slow-motion shots of Suzy yelling silently as Ben mutters in voiceover are particularly uncomfortable). But Cashback‘s washed-out supermarket sets and familiar characters somehow lend strength to the standard boy-loses-girl, boy-meets-cooler-girl themes. Ellis gives us a lovely, recognizable world in which a childish sweetness mixes strangely with a young man’s desires; his star’s guileless face and wide eyes lend the movie heart.

Cashback plays as a LateNite feature at the Bijou.