Cashback (2006)
30 July 2009
One of the biggest movie surprises of my life. Aside from three scenes: a fart joke near the start of the film, a poorly-done montage of the characters getting ready for a party, and a striptease at the aforementioned party, Sean Ellis' debut feature "Cashback" is almost entirely excellent. A lot of the criticisms are totally off-base as accusations of pretension and half-assed college student philosophy don't make much sense when the movie is from the perspective of, and narrated by, a first year art college student obsessed with the female form.

Accusations of chauvinism or sexism make even less sense. In the film, Ben can 'freeze time', allowing him to literally undress women without their consent and gaze at their bodies, draw them. We see the origins of his obsession with naked women in his youth. Standard male fantasy stuff, yeah? True enough, I suppose, but I think the film is smarter than that. The film is a portrayal of the male tendency to objectify women, think of them as their bodies and not as personalities, if the person doesn't know them. I worried a while ago if this was sexism on my part, that I was undressing women in my head and involving them in my fantasies, and was assured by more than one person that nothing could be more natural (indeed, I agree now, and the suggestion that women don't shallowly look at guys without an iota of thought for their personality is absurd, not to mention sexist in a way). It doesn't surprise me that accusations of sexism against this movie seem to come mostly from extra-sensitive men.

The director here depicts that exact tendency in the most literal fashion possible, then subtly suggests that Ben literally doing so is a transgression. There's a great scene which is never touched on again where Ben is walking around in his frozen world and then sees a moving figure which runs away. He's been caught looking. It's a fleeting moment but it is also probably the most important in the whole film. Ben's words right after he sees the figure are "it never occurred to me that there might be others who could stop time", or something to that general effect. That figure being where Ben was at that moment seems like a striking coincidence, I'd like to think the idea there is to suggest that maybe the figure (which was attempting to hide itself) had its own voyeuristic obsession with the other inhabitants of the frozen world. We encroach on each others' privacy so often without even thinking about it, and without thinking of what others do with our image in their heads, if they're even looking.

Ellis does this throughout the movie- it's not a particularly sophisticated piece of writing in that it's crass more often than not and that most of it is terribly blunt and literal- largely on purpose- but what's nice about this film is that while the ideas are unsophisticated and unsubtle, the actual conveyance of them is frequently quite subtle, or at least subtle enough that a staggering number of politically correct chumps manage to miss the point of the whole thing. What does bother me just a little bit is that the women Ben is actually involved with are never seen undressed. That is accurate to a degree with regard to how a man's way of thinking about a woman can change with getting to know them, but also seems to suggest the idea of a disconnect between love and sex in terms of 'purity' and such, an idea I'm somewhat uncomfortable with.

While my fiancée was ever so slightly offended by the writer/director waxing poetic through the narration about the incredible beauty of the female body, the truth is that the film is a true portrayal of the mindset of most (if not all) straight guys around that age, and if the man is an artist, as history shows, they will often work their sexual obsessions into their art. The film is a subjective, not objective portrayal of the character, which makes me appreciate more the small, thoughtful ways in which the director conveys the character's flaws. Actually, come to think of it, one of the scenes I disliked, the farting fat nude guy in the art class at the start of the film, doesn't seem so much like just a cheap laugh anymore, but seems totally in sync with the film's attitude. We never see his face, just his fat. He is a literal portrayal of the sort of person nobody wants to look at or think about, and his presence in the film, and the presence of satisfied smirks on the attractive young female students' faces (the only part of the film where the shallowness of the female psyche is explicitly portrayed) as soon as they set their eyes on him, is probably for a reason. Or maybe it's just a dumb fart joke I'm reading too much into? At its heart "Cashback" is just another romance/workplace comedy hybrid, but what sets it apart is the pure unflinching honesty with which it looks at the male psyche, the human psyche really, the bravura visual execution of the ideas with stunning photography and some superbly-staged scenes (the football match stands out), and the general confidence with which the whole thing is carried out by the excellent cast and crew. I'm definitely not giving it too much credit, but I'm almost certainly making it sound like a more demanding viewing than it actually is. It's also just funny and enjoyable, with well-drawn and entertaining characters and a good story. Loses its way a bit towards the end, but remains tremendously worthwhile.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.

Recently Viewed