A Street Cat Called Bob (PG)
Rating: 2 / 5
Get ready to see a whole lot more of ‘Bob’ (no need for a surname here). Whether he’s walking down the street or waltzing down the red carpet or is—more often than not—draped across his friend James Bowen’s shoulders, Bob clearly knows how to work a crowd.
Of course, Bob is the titular ‘street cat’ of the film’s prosaic title. A well-fed, extremely personable ginger cat just made for memes.
He’s also the reason why James Bowen is no longer homeless or a heroin addict, according to his best-selling biography, also called A Street Cat Called Bob. Moving to Australia from the UK after his parents split up, Bowen moved back to the UK in his teens and struggled to fit in.
In his late teens he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and manic depression. Initially looking to self-medicate, Bowen started sniffing glue, then smoking cannabis and finally taking heroin.
He spent a decade homeless until provided with accommodation in 2007. Bowen attributes both this and Bob for saving his life.
As he told thesun.co.uk: ‘If I hadn’t met Bob I’d probably be dead… I had no reason [to live] before he came into my life.’
Bowen and Bob’s story is certainly made for film, and the line between truth and fiction blurs in director Roger Spottiswoode’s cinematic version (other cats were auditioned for the role, but Bob ended up nailing it and he shares an easy rapport with Luke Treadaway who plays Bowen).
So does Spottiswoode succeed? Yes…and no.
While that old adage ‘Never work with children and animals’ doesn’t seem to apply here (in truth, every time Bob appears on screen he owns it, admittedly this does come from a self-confessed cat-lover), it’s the human story that’s slightly more problematic.
This is due to the film serving up almost every trope known to humankind—hopelessness, being estranged from a middle-class parent (Anthony Head), meeting a warm-hearted counsellor (Joanne Froggatt) and a potential love interest, a neighbour called Belle (Ruta Gedmintas).
The problem directors face with having warm-hearted material is that they’re spoilt for choice and don’t really need to work too hard to explore the characters or reach a truly satisfying resolution.
And this makes for a pretty pedestrian viewing experience.
That said, there is still plenty food for thought here. The film provides a thoroughly accessible window into homelessness, and the true story of redemption that it hangs upon is undeniably inspirational.
The actors, too, are uniformly good. Treadaway (who we last saw in Angelina Jolie’s film Unbroken) is engaging and believable as Bowen, especially during the harrowing scenes of heroin withdrawal; Joanne Froggatt, no stranger to UK films, is wonderfully benign as Val; and Ruta Gedmintas is beguiling as Betty.
Anthony Head as Nigel, Bowen’s father, suffers most from the churlish script. Of course, Bob shines just as you’d expect from a star on the rise.
Highlight: Bob. Need I say more?
Red flags: drug references, some coarse language