Synopsis: When art student Ben Willis through a painful break-up, he develops insomnia. To kill time, he starts working the late night shift at the local supermarket. There he meets a colorful cast of characters, all of whom have their own means of dealing with the boredom of an eight-hour shift. Ben imagines freezing time, which allows him to see the beauty of the everyday world including the people inside it – especially Sharon, the quiet checkout girl, who just may hold the answer to resolving Ben’s insomnia.
‘Cashback’, despite the indications of its title and poster/DVD box art, is a romantic dramedy. But it’s an original one, a particularly quirky number that incorporates fantasy/sci-fi into the mix by giving our lead character, Ben, the ability to stop time. This is a skill that he doesn’t start with, but later develops, as he tries get over a break-up – one that he initiated, no less.
What makes it work so well is that Ben is just a regular guy, with a regular life and regular problems (um… until he gets insomnia and teaches himself how to kill time by stopping it, of course). He’s not exactly a shining light, he is a flawed human being, but how he got into his predicament is explained by his shyness and inability to stand up for himself – he is one of many people who are incapable of truly taking hold of their destiny.
And what would a young lad be up to when he can do anything he wants, do you think?
Quick answer: look at naked girls.
You probably would to. Unless you’re into boys, that is – then you would look at naked boys. Same difference.
Personally, I felt some concern about the fact that he would feel comfortable undressing women and drawing them while they were frozen in time. He justified it to himself by saying that they would actually never know it happened – after all, for all intents and purposes, that moment doesn’t exist. But it still did happen. And even though they don’t know, he does. It’s still taking advantage of someone, or even abusing them, even if they’re not aware of it, isn’t it?
That moral issue nagged at me.
But, otherwise, I truly enjoyed the fact that the whole time-freeze angle was never actually explained; it made the film fantastical – which, in turn, allowed us to give in to its various conceits and slight slip-ups. When you know a picture is not rooted in reality, it’s much easier to free your feet from the ground, so to speak, and accept moments that would otherwise feel unrealistic. The perfect examples are ‘The Avengers‘ versus ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘.
It was especially intriguing that, for a brief moment, they showed someone running away while everyone else is frozen, thereby tossing in the notion that he wasn’t the only one who is able to stop time.
They never explained who it was and how he/she managed to escape the “freeze”. I liked that. If it had been a Hollywood film, we’d have found out that it was his best friend (or someone close to him! ) and/or it would have turned into a tension-filled drama – or even a thriller. I appreciated that it only opened the door to other possibilities, but that we never crossed the threshold – it was only meant to tease our imaginations and leave us curious.
However, I should note that there is a fatal flaw in this concept: if someone else actually was aware of, and could navigate Ben’s time-freeze, then the reverse would also be true: when they stopped time, he would be aware of it and would find that his life was affected. However, this never happened at any point. To me, this suggests that either this other person only just discovered their ability… or actually knows how to make its effect exclusive to themselves.
Still, I liked the way that writer-director Sean Ellis tackled matters of the heart, both old and new, as Ben tries to find love again after having irreparably damaged his previous relationship. The pace was good, the emotional content felt true, the humour was spot-on, and all the characters were interesting enough. My only beef is that the football match was too long, and kind of pointless; it was totally discrepant with the rest of the film. It was nonetheless enjoyable – just needlessly long.
I loved this unique, thoroughly entertaining take on the tale of a lost and lonely soul. While Ben could have done things differently, and some of his decision-making it made him seem like an idiot, the way he’d broken up felt true-to-life to me: people do stupid things they later regret. This was nothing shocking; it was all just an unfortunate slip of the tongue like so many that we slip every day. As far as I’m concerned, ‘Cashback’ was a breath of fresh air – and I look forward to seeing what else Ellis is up to.