Slow down and appreciate the beauty in life
Loves: Visually inventive films, Clerks
Likes: Tasteful nudity, short films
Dislikes: Service industry jobs
Hates: Awful strippers
That Cashback manages to take the utterly fascinating 18-minute short and fold it into a solid overall feature, without repeating itself or seeming like a shoehorned bit of material, is possibly the most impressive thing about it. That's saying something, as this is one of the most original films I've seen in some time, using a creative visual concept and making it part of the story instead of a gimmick. Admittedly, the story, which focuses on Ben, an art student suffering from insomnia, thanks to a bad break-up, isn't the most novel to hit screens, but the way it's told makes this an entertaining flick. After all, it's the first time I've seen the Everyguy hero freeze time and strip the women around him, in order to draw them in the nude.
Though Ben's late-night shenanigans (and the copious nudity that accompanies them) will always be the most memorable part of this film, thus earning the starring role on the poster and cover, the movie is no one-trick pony. As he spends his sleepless nights working at a grocery store, using his imagination to help the hours pass, a blossoming relationship with fellow clerk Sharon helps him cope with his sleep disorder. More exploration of Ben's frozen world would have been appreciated, especially when it's teased at one point that Ben might not be alone there. But instead we get a pair of Dumb & Dumber deli workers and an egomaniacal boss, as the film slips into a rather traditional boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-goes-after-girl plotline.
As traditional as the film becomes as it moves forward, the movie's transitions from the present to the past keep it energized, as the flashbacks reveal much about Ben's view of beauty and explain his obsessions. Director Sean Ellis shows a solid ability to pick and choose his spots where he lets loose with the camera, resulting in some truly gorgeous moments, while other times he lets the actors do their thing. For a film that's such an artistic vision, it's a bit odd that there are many diversions into pure comedy, including a predictable and pointless soccer game and a silly "getting ready" montage. These don't work as well as the quicker gags, like the running joke about Ben's horny pal and his luck with the ladies, and, as a result, the film loses a bit of the sense of artistry it had, but it's all still done so well, that these sins are forgivable.
The cast, unlikely to be recognizable to American audiences, is uniformly good, starting with Sean Biggerstaff (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) as Ben. A young man with soulful eyes and the kind of laconic, world-weary delivery that makes sense for the character, he allows the audience to believe that he hasn't slept in weeks, while not overselling the idea. He's perfectly matched in Emilia Fox's Sharon, who shares the same sense of oppressed hope, and whose understated beauty makes Ben's artistic interest in her all the more real (and makes his fantasy vision of her a sight to behold.) The rest of the cast does well with what are essentially one-note parts, though Michael Dixon and Michael Lambourne, as the aforementioned goofball co-workers, are unavoidably noticeable.
It's tempting to label this film as uneven, as it tries to do a few too many disparate things, but I'd rather give it an A for effort than dismiss its indulgences, as the beautiful scenes and intriguing filmmaking will stick with you long after the sillier scenes pass by. The somewhat heavy-handed message about appreciating the world around you and the time you have doesn't distract thankfully, and results in an ending that's appropriate for what's akin to a modern-day fairy tale.
The Bottom Line