Review: A Street Cat Named Bob

Every cat has his day, and Bob gets his with this faithful adaptation of James Bowen’s autobiography. Roger Spottiswoode juggles, with mixed results, the tonally tricky subject of a homeless, methadone addict and the feline companion who changed his life.

Cats often get a raw deal in the movies. If there’s a cat in a horror film, you just know it’s going to meet an unpleasant end. But regardless of genre, cats are usually there as victims of abuse, from Audrey Hepburn throwing her kitty around the kitchen in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to the poor puss in Bad Boy Bubby who got asphyxiated with glad wrap, and don’t get me started on what Donald Sutherland does in Bertolucci’s 1900. Those that aren’t being mistreated are generally portrayed as evil.

So, as a cat lover, it’s refreshing to see a film where the cat is the hero.  

The story of A Street Cat Named Bob is pretty simple. James (Luke Treadaway) is living it rough and trying to get off heroin. He’s on the methadone program, but at the film’s beginning he’s fallen back onto heroin and subsequently overdoses.

For some reason, his counselor Val (Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt) takes a particular interest in him and believes he has it in him to kick the habit, so she fastracks assisted accommodation for him. This is where Bob walks into his life. Bob latches onto James immediately, insisting on following him everywhere. So James’ busking in Covent Garden suddenly takes on a level of fame, now he has the added novelty of a ginger tom sitting on his shoulder while he sings.

The tone of the film is pretty uneven, it doesn’t shirk from the realities of homelessness, and the scenes of James withdrawing from methadone are quite potent, and yet the film sticks to the man/cat buddy theme enough to retain a PG rating. The result is a reasonably family friendly film, if you don’t mind your kids spending a few minutes tasting the seedier side of life.

Treadaway, who’s always a strong presence on film, has a rather thankless task here, given that most of the time he’s on screen, we’re actually watching his cat. His interactions with the humans in his life aren’t always presented with much nuance, especially the slightly laboured scenes with his potential love interest, neighbour Betty (real life g.f. Ruda Gedmintas)

Bob is the main attraction, and hats off to the wranglers for getting the real life Bob and his various stand-ins, to do what they’re told. Bob may not always hit his marks with much conviction, but he does retain a certain amount of credibility and charisma.

Spottiswoode, who had a string of commercial films in the 80s and 90s like Turner & Hooch, as well as the landmark And The Band Played On, isn’t the most visually sophisticated filmmaker out there, so the film is left to stand on the strength of the story.

One of the reasons Treadaway was cast was because he sings in a band. He does a fair amount of singing in the film, and while he’s convincing as a busker (sounding very much like former Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz), hearing him sing does wear thin after awhile, especially since he’s performing the same songs over and over.

If you’re a cat lover, you’ll probably find this quite charming. If you’re not, this isn’t likely to convert you.  

✭✭✭

A Street Cat Named Bob is currently in limited release

Richard Leathem @dickiegee