In a romance, the equivalent of a feisty go-getter singing her heart out must be the slow-motion remembrance of an old lover. And Cashback, an Oscar-nominated short that’s been stretched to feature length by British writer-director Sean Ellis, can’t get enough of it. Woe is Ben, the art student who has broken up with his first girlfriend at the beginning of the film. He’s been unable to sleep since the separation and is haunted by her image: In a flowing dress, his fair love laughs as she runs and looks behind her into the camera, sunlit all around, as the score swells. Thinking about her with her new boyfriend, he says, “felt like all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room.”
Now would be a good time for that dodgeball, but there’s no such relief from Ellis’ triteness. Cashback is purportedly about beauty and time and realizing one’s goals, but really it just seems like an excuse to show boobs. Not just any boobs, mind you, though the reason for their contribution to the movie is to demonstrate the elegance of the female form and Ben’s obsession with trying to capture it. No, these breasts are natural and astounding, belonging to very lucky, very slim young women. But Ben, see, isn’t a horndog like his friends. He’s an artiste—who apparently has been exposed only to the Playboy-ready, besides the farting male model in his drawing class.
Ben (the bland Sean Biggerstaff) sees the majority of these racks after he takes a job as an overnight clerk in a grocery store in an attempt to stave off his insomnia-fueled boredom. During these long nights, he discovers he has the ability to freeze time, which he often uses to delicately undress the female customers or to stare at Sharon (Emilia Fox), a quiet cashier. He draws her without her knowledge and eventually asks her out; a conflict that would occur only in a script nearly keeps them apart, but as Ellis seems to argue with the time-stopping conceit, every action sets off a chain of events that eventually lead a person where they should be.
The frozen scenes are rather hypnotic as Ben studies whatever activity has been stopped, and with minor characters such as the store manager and fellow employees played as clowns, the movie is sometimes funny. (A hapless soccer game against a rival store, for instance, is one of the best parts.) But Cashback’s few pluses don’t outweigh its facile sentimentality, made all the worse by Ben’s continual, ponderous voiceovers that clue us in to his Psych 101 musings. With each succeeding thought, it feels as if all the oxygen is being sucked out of the room.