Cashback Review
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Following a painful breakup with his girlfriend of more than two years, art student Ben Willis (Sean Biggerstaff) finds himself suffering from insomnia. No matter what he does, he can’t get to sleep.

As writer/director Sean Ellis opens Cashback, it feels like a gloomy art film. It looks great—but it’s rather depressing. Ben struggles through endless nights, constantly replaying memories of the girl he loved as he struggles to get to sleep. But Cashback isn’t really an artsy drama—it’s actually a romantic comedy. So things begin to change for Ben when he decides to trade in his extra eight hours each day for a little bit of extra cash—by working the night shift at a grocery store. There, he finds that his coworkers have various ways of coping with the long, often dull shifts. Some play games. Some fight to keep from looking at the clock. But instead of fighting it, Ben embraces the plodding passage of time. In fact, he begins to imagine that time is frozen. And in this frozen world, he can wander through the store, undressing the female customers and drawing them naked—because, of course, he’s always admired the beauty of the female form.

At the same time—while he’s wandering through his frozen world, admiring its beauty—he also discovers Sharon (Emilia Fox), his night-shift coworker, who could be the key to curing his insomnia.

At its core, Cashback is an interesting indie film about seeing the beauty in each second in life. But it repeatedly loses focus, and it’s hard to see what it’s really trying to say. At times, as I mentioned earlier, it’s gloomy and artistic. At others, it’s quirky and irreverent. At still others, it’s a typical romantic comedy. And while Ben and Sharon are supposed to be thoughtful, intelligent, and even somewhat serious characters, the rest of the cast is made up of cartoonish clichés—the self-centered jock, the martial arts expert, the pervert best friend. Actually, almost all of the male characters are perverts in some form or another—which makes it hard to see the “art” in the film’s moments of excessive nudity. Even though Ben is an artist, and he supposedly appreciates the beauty of the naked female form, through flashbacks, we see hat he learned his “appreciation” through Hustler magazines and neighborhood peep shows. And he expresses his appreciation by imagining that he’s undressing women and drawing them naked, without them knowing, making it feel less like “artistic appreciation” and more like a young male fantasy. It’s a good thing, though, that Ben works in a neighborhood full of gorgeous women—and that they all happen to shop in the middle of the night. Because I doubt if he’d be nearly as thrilled about passing the time drawing naked old hags.

Though the comedy in Cashback is simply goofy, the narration is rather dry. Sometimes it’s dry in a humorous way, but, at other times, it’s just plain dry. It often feels rather sleepy, in fact, as if you’re fighting through your own insomnia—in a sort of dream-like haze that never lets up.

So while Cashback offers glimpses of a great film, too much other stuff that gets in the way, blurring the focus and making it difficult to understand and appreciate.

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