How do we spend our time? How do we perceive time? Do humans have the ability to bend time through pure mental tenacity? These and more questions form the plot of Cashback, a feature length follow-up by Sean Ellis to his Oscar-nominated short film of the same name. The short is actually contained in its entirety within the feature.
The primary protagonist and narrator is Ben Willis (Sean Biggerstaff), an art school student who just broke up with his girlfriend. He finds himself unable to sleep and takes a nightshift job at a local supermarket. There he begins to philosophically examine time as he learns to make his shift go faster. By taking the job, Ben views his paycheck as “cashback” for the 8-hours he would normally spend asleep.
While working, he discovers an ability to freeze time (at least mentally) and begins examining the world much closer during these periods. Ben soon develops an interest in fellow employee Sharon (Emilia Fox), but must compete with his boss and co-workers who also attempt to win her over.
Near the end of the film supermarket boss Jenkins (Stuart Goodwin) throws a party where Ben runs into his ex-girlfriend Suzy (Michelle Ryan). This creates a series of events building the films climax and eventually leading to the conclusion.
The film’s biggest strengths come from its pace and storytelling. It seamlessly moves between past and present, sharing anecdotes about Ben’s childhood that give a more complete picture of his character.
Another strength is its philosophical backbone. Ben’s understanding and perception of time and people develops throughout the film, taking it a step beyond the standard breakup movie. The concept of an aspiring artist’s acute eye for detail in the world and the human body was part of a few interesting concepts that work together in the films plot. Finally, the film’s score and cinematography add much to its overall watchability and audience engagement.
Despite putting a few new twists on the classic breakup story, Cashback still relies on some standard tropes. It’s very much the story of someone who can’t get an ex out of their mind. Further, his finding what seems like the perfect girl by chance shortly after his breakup is common of the genre.
Another criticism I have is a bit harder to explain. At times, the film feels immature…for lack of a better way to put it. To be fair, this is the first feature length film directed by Ellis. I guess one could say that shows at some points more than others. As someone who has written short stories and even attempted some basic screenwriting…I can see some of the go to “edgy” plot lines, in particular insomnia. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason insomnia is such an alluring narrative yet also incredibly difficult to pull off in execution. Furthermore, there are attempts to pay homage to other well regarded films. The nod (possibly unintentional) to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off felt a bit more like a ripoff than a tribute.
Cashback is the first film in quite a while that I watched completely spontaneously. I happened to be scrolling through Hulu and decided to give it a shot out of the blue. For anyone who has Hulu or another streaming site that may offer this film I’d recommend giving it a shot. Other than that, I wouldn’t say it is worth going out of your way to view. One fair warning is that there is quite a bit of nudity in the film. Personally when used with discretion that doesn’t bother me, but others may be more sensitive.
P.S. – Shoutout to a British film for using a song by the Black Keys before they hit it big.