For a movie that boasts beautiful naked women as its most obvious selling point, "Cashback" is a surprisingly charming hybrid of romantic comedy and "artsy" male fantasy. Visually inventive and wryly observant in matters of love lost and found, it's also a curiously appealing exercise in romantic existentialism.
British writer-director Sean Ellis began his career as a fashion photographer, so it's no surprise that "Cashback" (expanded from Ellis' Oscar-nominated short from 2004) has the polished gloss of a Vogue layout. But this is no shallow fashion shoot in rom-com apparel; Ellis has interesting things to say about the messy splendor of love.
And while "Cashback" (which was shown during the Seattle International Film Festival last month) occasionally indulges the kind of juvenile humor you'd find in a low-grade teen flick, it also plays interesting games with time, memory and the subtle exchanges we make with ourselves and others (cashback, if you will) in our individual quests for personal satisfaction.
Mostly, however, "Cashback" is a seductive study of how a young London art student named Ben (Sean Biggerstaff) copes with his latest breakup. Suffering from chronic insomnia, he passes the hours on the night shift in a Whitechapel supermarket, where he copes with drudgery by imagining he can freeze time to appreciate the still-life beauty of everyday things. Of course, this also means he can undress gorgeous women as they stand frozen in the produce aisle, but hey, he's an art student ... can you blame him?
Ben's romantic recovery begins when he meets check-out clerk Sharon (the radiantly charming Emilia Fox), who's a welcomed distraction from the goofballs he works with. As they grow closer, "Cashback" gains the kind of intelligent charm you'd expect from a Cameron Crowe film, aided by the curiously effective, blank-slate calm of Biggerstaff (best known as Quidditch captain Oliver Wood in the "Harry Potter" movies). As observers we can project our own fantasies onto Ben's, and Ellis enhances this dreamy effect with low-budget ingenuity, like cleverly executing location changes in the same unbroken shot.
With so much going for it, "Cashback" doesn't need the lowbrow interludes that almost spoil its mood, but it's a forgivable flaw in a mostly delightful film that's guaranteed to find an appreciative audience on DVD — and we don't just mean drooling guys with their thumbs on the pause button.
Jeff Shannon: email@example.com
"Cashback," with Sean Biggerstaff, Emilia Fox, Shaun Evans, Michelle Ryan, Stuart Goodwin. Written and directed by Sean Ellis.
98 minutes. Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content and language.