A Young Male Insomniac's Visions Of Perfect Beauty: Female
Physical Poetry, In Slow (and Stop) Motion
The Popcorn Reel Movie Review: "Cashback"
By Omar P.L. Moore/July 22, 2007
Emilia Fox as Sharon and Sean Biggerstaff as Ben in "Cashback", directed by
Sean Ellis, based on his Oscar-nominated short film of 2004. (All photos:
Magnolia Pictures) The film will be released on DVD in the U.S. on July
24 by Magnolia Home Entertainment.
In 1697 William Congreve once said (or wrote) "hell hath no fury
like a woman scorned." And it is worth noting that heaven hath no equal to
a woman's beauty. (No one once said that -- this review's writer just made
that up.) But Sean Ellis's film "Cashback" will definitely agree with the
second line of this review. The film's protagonist, one Ben (Sean
Biggerstaff), a small-shouldered, boyish 20-something, has just crushed the
heart of his girlfriend Suzy (Michelle Ryan) and from the very start, everything
is in slow motion, a timeless moment lasting an entirety. In life, it
seems that all the tough moments last the longest, and with the onset of
insomnia, Ben experiments with manipulating not the forward progress of time,
but the inevitable speed and motion of it. He finds comfort in a midnight
shift job at Sainsbury's, a supermarket that people in England are very familiar
with. Ben fantasizes not only about the women who walk the shopping aisles
after hours -- all of whom could easily walk the catwalks during the daylight
hours -- but also about stopping time dead in its tracks so he can capture the
deep beauty that is woman, as the aspiring artist in him goes to work.
So goes the early structure of "Cashback", an absorbing, funny and intelligent
look at the waking life of a young man who celebrates the beauty of woman in all
her nudity and au natural-ness. The film at times plays like a cinematic
version of Sue Townsend's The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4, a
classic British novel from the 1980's, but has the earnest good intentions of a
serious filmmaker who is journeying down memory lane with a great depth of
character in Ben -- we know what his history is, his fascination with art, his
seminal moment with the opposite sex at a very young age -- we know it all, and
while it is funny (Mr. Ellis's script is a strong one for the most part) --
there is an autobiographical, diary-like quality of urgency and authenticity
that makes "Cashback" feel like a documentary. Ben speaks very
deliberately, almost mournfully --- as every breath he takes and each syllable
he utters means something.
The obvious (or stereotypical) male view of the woman -- and the men in the
audience will be happy to know that there are plenty of nude women on display
for their ogling pleasure -- may skew towards an unavoidable (and unfair)
objectification of the fairer sex, but what makes "Cashback" a more unique film
than the category of films it may be accused of resembling is that it has a
definite feminine feel -- at least in the way that the lead male character
expresses his feelings toward and about the opposite sex. The exquisite
visual effects magic of some of the astounding pictures and camera tricks
buttress these feelings, and the stylized cinematography by Angus Hudson adds
another element to the film's tonal mood.
Irene Bagach makes a cameo as a beautiful woman in the dreams or
realities of young Ben (Sean Biggerstaff) in Sean Ellis's "Cashback".
In a way, "Cashback" works in the reverse fashion to the recent release "Lady
Chatterley" (which opened in several Northern California cities on the same day
as Mr. Ellis's film.) Here, Ben treasures the pleasing aesthetic moments
he can attain by magically prolonging or freezing them and they are not
forbidden to him in the way that Constance Chatterley's are to her. And
while there are naked women aplenty in "Cashback", there is a distinct absence
of eroticism, a strong counterpoint to Pascale Ferran's "Chatterley", which is
the most erotic film of the year even though the participants in the intimate
sexual affairs da jour keep their clothes on for most of the near three hours of
Sharon (Emilia Fox), Ben's Sainsbury's colleague, is the object of Ben's
affections, but there is a sense of unfinished business for Ben, some loose ends
to tie up (human emotions will do that to you.) Meanwhile, there are
issues with the sexually harassing boss Mr. Jenkins (Stuart Goodwin) and the
clowning Greek Chorus of uber-dweebs, who aren't as much an example of men
behaving badly as they are men behaving pathetically or like apish pranksters.
There is Ben's childhood friend Sean (played by Shaun Evans) who prides himself
of being a Lothario that the women can't refuse. "Cashback" does have some
kinship with "Eyes Wide Shut" -- a film released eight years and four days ago
to the day of "Cashback"'s U.S. July 20 release -- especially in its bright
over-lit halogen backgrounds, and in some ways with "After Hours", although
there aren't as many misadventures for Ben as the amount Griffin Dunne's
character endured in one night in Martin Scorsese's film.
To portray still life, the women chronicled had to be good actors, or at best,
good performance artists. The degree of performance may have a bit to do
with video stop-frame technology and other optical effects and tricks, and a
mannequin-or Madame Tussauds' wax-like existence, but the bottom line is that
the acting lends a starkness and depth (thanks to the visuals and Mr. Ellis's
dialogue.) It is not difficult to buy into the film's ending, and we all
have identified with Ben's predicaments or the women's concerns and
Freeze Frame: Still life, non-J. Geils Band style, as Emilia Fox is frozen as
Sharon, in "Cashback", which opened in nine U.S. cities last Friday.
Mr. Biggerstaff lends a sad, waiflike quality to Ben. Ms. Fox percolates
oh-so subtly as Sharon and her emotions are just beneath the surface at times in
this romance-drama-comedy. What makes "Cashback" work well is the
no-frills aspect of its story. Simplistic but complex, hilarious but
haunting, "Cashback" seizes upon the elements of time, beauty and memory, and
visually represents all three as a singular experience so beautiful to Ben that
the euphoric instant lasts forever. Beautiful moments (a woman's smile,
her laugh, the way her eyes engage during a conversation, etc.) can last an
eternity in one instant, too. The pleasures of a predominant and
triumphant human emotion, extended beyond all short attention spans and sound
bite range make "Cashback" pulsate through any hint of melancholy that comes
through in Mr. Biggerstaff's character. Mr. Ellis treats the terrain of
emotion and artistic praise shown in the strong worship of the female form, and
with "Cashback" -- a film adapted from his own Oscar-nominated short film of
2004 which featured all of the main principals here -- he has made an effort
that he and audiences can salute.
"Cashback" is rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content and
language by the Motion Picture Association of America. The film's duration
is one hour and 42 minutes. The film opened on July 20 in nine U.S.
cities, including New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C, Denver, San Francisco and
Note: "Cashback" will be released on DVD in the U.S. by Magnolia Home
Entertainment on July 24, 2007.
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