This is Sean Ellis's Academy Award nominated short film Cashback expanded into feature film. Cashback is a comedy first and foremost, and it is about an art school student and aspiring artist named Ben (Sean Biggerstaff), who recently suffered a breakup with his girlfriend of several years. Because of the break up Ben cannot sleep for over the course of several weeks and this is the time period of Ben's life that we see and he narrates for us. Ben gets a job at a grocery store to pass his time. He often imagines stopping time completely and creating his still life art. In fact, as the film goes one we begin to wonder if he really can stop time or not. Soon Ben begins to fall for a clerk named Sharon (Emilia Fox) and his episodic insomnia gets resolved.
Cashback is rich with great characters and some hilarious moments. Ben is dry enough to fittingly suffer through his many experiences, all the while his flat reactions to these other brighter characters is comedic in and of itself. Ben's friend from childhood Shaun (Sean Higgins) is an amusing womanizer who seems completely at peace with the fact that most women will harshly reject his obnoxious advances. Ben's boss Jenkins (Stuart Goodwin) is an absurdly arrogant person that also seems entirely unwavered by his failures to pursue Sharon, or even win a football game against a competing grocery store. Barry and Matt (Michael Dixon and Michael Lambourne) are two colleagues of Ben's who are constantly being ridiculously mischievous and make for some of the film's best laughs. Another colleague of Ben's is Brian (Marc Pickering) whose kung-fu training defines him as a person. This is obviously a character-driven comedy, but it is the development of these characters that makes the more subdued drama work to its advantage.
The short film, which is on this DVD as well, is basically comprised of the scene in the film where we first meet and establish these colorful characters. It is the most engaging part of the movie. The only difference between the segment in the short film and the long version is that the long version is slightly edited for sexual content. I found it strange that in the short film all the girl's are clean shaven but in the long version they suddenly have pubic hair. Nevertheless, the feature film sliding by the MPAA with just an R-rating is still a wonderful surprise. The standards have seemingly changed and perhaps the MPAA sees nudity as more pleasing to the eyeballs, as opposed to seeing someone's eyeballs being torn out of their head with pliers. No matter, you get both versions with this DVD and the film's primary function isn't as a skin flick to begin with. It is actually sort of disappointing to hear about all the nude scenes anytime I hear about this movie, although it would be silly not to point out that the nudity involves some of the most beautiful women in the world (e.g. Hayley Marie Coppin, Irene Bagach, Keeley Hazell).
I've heard that director Sean Ellis is working on a horror film next with Lena Headey. That has me curious because Ellis shows more technical ability in Cashback than we are used to seeing in most comedies and I believe he has given me reason to look out for his next project. Cashback is both more entertaining and more vulgar than most comedies out there and it deserves credit for that. It doesn't seem to be getting the exposure I think the film warrants as it is probably very accessible to an American audience. I hope it catches on as I enjoyed it very much.