Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The title of this film is about as misleading as its billing as a romantic comedy. Unable to sleep after breaking up with his first serious girlfriend, art student Ben has too much time on his hands; he trades it for cash via a job in Sainsbury's - cashback. This, however, is at something of a tangent to the film's central theme, which is more closely focused on time itself. How do people cope in boring jobs when they're just aching for the time to go by? How easily can years drift by without anything much really changing? What would happen if we could freeze time, stop, and look around us to see the world more intimately?

Whilst there are certainly moments of humour in this frank ensemble portrait of a group of people whiling away their lives, much of it is quite grim, and those who go looking for light entertainment may well be disappointed. It would be fairer simply to call it a romance, a film willing to explore notions of love and beauty without depending too much on humour to keep viewers engaged.

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Underscored by soul-searching narration, the film depends on a dry yet affectionate look back at the hero's childhood and his various attempts to come to terms which his feelings about girls for its lighter moments. With great performances from the child actors, these nostalgic glimpses highlight Ben's present-day awkwardness. Wounded by his break-up and unsure how to make any progress in life, he spends most of the story being passive and somewhat remote - it is to star Sean Biggerstaff's credit that the audience is still able to find him sympathetic.

The film's greatest problem is not with its characters or its central idea, but with its pacing. As Ben mentally freezes time to seek inspiration for his drawings and paintings, so all the action in the film comes to a halt. The script has its weaknesses and the narrative isn't always strong enough to carry these scenes.

The interplay of ideas from pornography and art is also problematic; Ben's protestations that he can see beauty in everything would be more convincing if the women who got his attention were less conventionally beautiful to begin with. As it is, one wonders why working in that particular supermarket is not something which people queue up for. This seems to be intended as a contract to his rediscovery of emotional priorities, but it has the effect of making the film feel disjointed.

All in all, Cashback is a flawed film but a brave one, taking on subject matter which is rarely addressed this way in British film and presenting it with a starkness which, whilst sometimes missing the mark, nevertheless provides something which anyone might relate to. It's a gentle sort of film, focusing more on those tentative first steps to romance than on great passion, but it certainly seemed to deliver what the romantics in the audience were looking for. Artistically, it really scores as an exploration of insomnia, evocative and sometimes disturbing without having to go to extremes. It suggests talent well worth keeping an eye on.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2007
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Romance about an art student who works the nightshift in a supermarket, explores the issue of time - and what would happen if you could make it stand still.
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Read more Cashback reviews:

Stephen Carty ***1/2
Chris *1/2

Director: Sean Ellis

Writer: Sean Ellis

Starring: Sean Biggerstaff, Emilia Fox, Shaun Evans, Michelle Ryan, Stuart Goodwin, Michael Dixon, Michael Lambourne, Marc Pickering, Nick Hancock, Frank Hesketh, Irene Bagach

Year: 2006

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Glasgow 2007

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