'Cashback's' Art Lies in Overcoming its Youthful Hormones
It would be foolish to over-praise this pleasing, silken tapestry, which has its share of inane, low brow threads and even plays now and then as if "American Pie" were being remade by a British film school student.
At its core, "Cashback" is a charming, standard love story set among university students and late adolescents. But writer/director Sean Ellis, expanding his award-winning shorter film of the same name, tosses in enough school-boy poetry, arty nudity and Rococo cinematic embellishment in a way that deepens and enhances what might otherwise be forgettable.
Ben (Sean Biggerstaff), an art student, is dumped by longtime girlfriend, Suzy (Michelle Ryan), in an opening sequence with soundless images of her cursing to Ben's piquant narration. The movie quickly turns fanciful. Ben enters a period of total insomnia, going weeks without sleep, and so he takes a job at a supermarket, where he meets a menagerie of other youngsters and learns he can freeze time and walk about amid a reality transformed into giant photographs.
Ellis has a playful time with the classic images of atelier life, transforming harshly lit, brightly colored shots of immobile supermarket life into an ongoing riff on still-life painting and nude portraiture. Female nudes are on full display, both as subjects of art study and objects of young male lust, including flashbacks to Ben's growing up for a time with a Swedish exchange student who showed no concern for modesty.
Ellis tells a fairly straightforward story about how Ben finds new love with a co-worker (Emilia Fox). There are also comic subplots involving the supermarket's soccer-obsessed manager (played with low-key eccentricity by Stuart Goodwin) and the oddball friends Ben meets on the job.
He wraps it all up with a dreamy use of still photography and slow motion, along with a few other film tricks that make "Cashback" witty and warm in addition to funny. The supermarket is a canvas for both Ben and the filmmaker, and the technique of frozen time proves a leitmotif evolved and resolved with poetic panache. A snowflake finale is sublimely romantic and sweet.
There's gross, frat-boy humor here and there, but it's nicely balanced with Ellis' more elegant material. Among a worthy ensemble, Biggerstaff is key, his eyebrows subtle weapons of comic communication and his sad sack, put-upon drollery a perfect persona for a clever young artist years ahead of his age. "Cashback" deftly combines bawdy sight gags, bittersweet melodrama, the heartache of youth and the joys of moviemaking.
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