A lovely but by no means perfect film that reminds us of the power of animal companionship during our darkest moments.
Those who are devout cat lovers will simply adore this sweet film, and even those who aren’t the greatest fans of cats will find it hard to resist. A Street Cat Named Bob tells the story of real life former busker James Bowen, who whilst on the journey to beating his heroin addiction and leaving his life on the streets, came across the cute ginger cat Bob who would later become his best friend and loyal companion. Bowen’s debut best-selling book about the pair was released in 2012, and now their story has come to the big screen.
When James (Luke Treadaway) first meets Bob (played by the real cat himself, along with a few other stunt cats throughout the film), he is found eating Cornflakes on the floor of James’ kitchen. On his last chance from his addiction counsellor Val (Joanne Froggatt), James has been given supported accommodation and mistakes Bob for an intruder. It’s a cute and amusing scene, and as James and Bob’s friendship develops, many similar scenes of the lovely ginger cat follow. Particularly sweet moments are when Bob first sits with James whilst he is out busking, when he is given a little scarf to wear as a Christmas present by an admiring fan of the duo, and when Bob is made to wear a cone of shame by the vet after he is injured. With moments like these, the film almost comes across as a gentle and cute cat comedy.
However, the feel good elements of the film sharply contrast with the plot’s more dark and sinister themes. The heart-breaking moment when the callous fast food shop owner throws a meal into the sink when a pleading James is nine pence short of buying it makes you feel angry, as does when James’ estranged and rich father Nigel (Anthony Head) is reluctant to accept his son early on in the film. Even more hard-hitting than this, is the montage during which James attempts to go cold turkey and Bob sits quietly and watches, not long after the shocking death of one of James’ fellow street dwellers after a heroin overdose. This particular scene is dealt with too fleetingly it seems, perhaps so as not to steer away completely from the light hearted cat filled fun, but it serves its purpose in highlighting the dangers of drug abuse and the worst possible outcome. In this sense, the extreme changes in tone in moments like these and then the adorable moments with Bob did not flow together smoothly. Moreover, there are several occasions in the film where a point of view shot is used in order for us to see the world from Bob’s perspective; these seemed randomly placed and became tired quite early on.
The casting of the film however, should most certainly be praised. Treadaway’s performance is raw and heartfelt, whilst his on screen love interest and neighbour Betty (Treadaway’s real life girlfriend Ruta Gedmintas) is played with a genuine warmth and sensitivity that instantly appeals.
A Street Cat Named Bob is, without doubt, a good film. It doesn’t quite manage to combine the grim realities of drug addiction and cute animal fun successfully, but it certainly lifts your spirits.
A Street Cat Named Bob (2016), directed by Roger Spottiswoode, is distributed in the UK by Sony Pictures Entertainment. Certificate 12A.