Monday, August 27, 2007

Movie Log: Cashback

Cashback is a pleasant movie about a young man who is a nearly complete wanker, a film which tries desperately to mask its mildly exploitative softcore heart under soulful narration and seriousness of purpose, and basically succeeds. It also has quite a lot of lovely female nudity in it (all absolutely necessary for the plot, luckily), which The Wife and I both appreciated. And it's the expansion of a short film -- from what IMDB says, the entirety of the short of the same name is embedded in the feature-length Cashback.

Sean Biggerstaff plays Ben Willis, a third-year student at an art college somewhere in the UK, who has just broken up with his girlfriend, Suzy (Michelle Ryan). Although he seems to have been the one behind the break-up, he's taken it badly. Very badly. Hard-to-believe-even-in-a-comedy badly.

He stops sleeping entirely due to his ennui and malaise, and mopes around (narrating intensely) for about two reels. (Luckily, this also includes some pleasant flashbacks and some scenes with Ben's best mate, Sean Higgins (Shaun Evans) -- who is the usual wacky best friend required for every soulful young movie hero -- so it's not unrelieved oh-woe-is-me.) Since Ben needs money, and has an extra eight hours in the day to waste, he takes a job on the night shift of a Sainsbury's supermarket.

There's the expected motley crew of misfits and oddballs working at the market, including the requisite megalomaniacal manager, Mr. Jenkins (Stuart Goodwin). There's also, apparently, only one woman, Sharon Pitntey (Emilia Fox), who is young and pretty and for whom Ben falls as quickly as you'd expect. (Ben should be about twenty or twenty-one in this movie, but he has the emotional maturity and steadiness of a particularly tormented twelve-year-old.)

But I'm getting a bit ahead of the plot (and the point). Ben's narration (which isn't as self-obsessed and moody as it could be, though there is a bit too much of it) points out that each of the night-shift oddballs has a way of dealing with the long stretches of boredom at night, and Ben's is...that he's learned how to stop time, to freeze the world around him. And he uses that ability to undress attractive women in the aisles of the market and sketch them. (So it's creepy, but, compared with all of the other things he could potentially do with that power, it's only mildly creepy. And Ben is such a sad sack that he doesn't come off as a predator.) And this is where the nudity comes in, as you may have guessed. This sequence -- about how everyone deals with their time at work -- is apparently the original short.

The plot of Cashback is a bit thin: Ben loses girl, Ben gets job, Ben discovers power, Ben falls for new girl, Ben eventually gets a girl after travails. Even the "travails" section is pretty standard, with some conflicts with a co-worker, the big (soccer) game against a rival store, and, finally, a big party with all of the characters present. But it's pleasant, and the actors -- none of whom I recognized from anything else -- are all solid.

There's only the one major montage of Ben sketching half-naked shoppers (from the original short), but there's a couple of scenes of strippers, and one of a Swedish exchange student from Ben's ill-spent youth, for those who like such things. (I see the British are still obsessed with the sexual availability of Swedes, for whatever reason.)

I wish the plot had a bit more originality to it, and that perhaps Ben had been allowed to have a more original personality. (Perhaps he could have been not so obviously a "nice guy" -- seeing as how his major leisure activity is taking advantage of unknowing women -- which could have given him scope for more interesting actions.) And the very obvious lesson at the end was unnecessary and corny. The movie is also puffed out by Ben's narration; you can feel that there wasn't quite enough story for a feature, but the filmmakers got around that by having Ben talk everything to death.

Still, this is the first feature-length film from writer/director/producer Sean Ellis, so you have to give him credit: it's an original idea, handled pretty well and turned into an entertaining movie. If he can get better from here, he could do a lot of great work. And this is a pleasant, entertaining romantic comedy with a new angle...and a lot of nudity. It could be a great date movie for the right kind of couple.


Michael said...

The short can be found online for free.

Andrew Wheeler said...

The first half of the short is a couple of places, but the only place I've seen the whole thing is Google Video.

Michael A. Burstein said...

The Google Video copy is an mp4, which can be played on an iPod.

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