Review: A Street Cat Named Bob

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DIR: Roger Spottiswoode • WRI:  Tim John, Maria Nation • PRO: Adam Rolston • DOP: Peter Wunstorf • ED: Paul Tothill • DES: Antonia Lowe • MUS: David Hirschfelder • CAST: Bob, Luke Treadaway, Ruta Gedmintas

As if they didn’t have the audiovisual market cornered with thanks to Grumpy Cat and Youtube, the Moggys are back in time for Christmas as A Street Cat Named Bob arrives internationally at theatres. Based on the 2012 international hit novel about the real life story of James Bowen, a former homeless drug addict in London who was able to overcome his addiction and get a new life with the help of an adventurous orange cat named Bob. The moving tale of James and Bob also gives an account of the harsh and exposed existence endured by the countless homeless people who roam our largest urban hubs has become a respectful and sincere film under the careful direction of  Roger Spottiswoode (Turner & Hooch, Tomorrow Never Dies).

As a self-confessed anti-ailurophile who had the misfortune to see Aubrey Plaza’s Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever in 2014, I had my reservations about any silver screen rendition featuring the word ‘cat’ in the title. While sentimental, the movie manages nonetheless to remain earnest and avoid the pitfalls of a saccharine pet picture with a story that inspires hope while plucking at the viewer’s heartstrings with a veracity akin to that of a catnip-addicted tabby with a new ball of yarn. Affectionate moments between man and cat are juxtaposed with grim visuals of James’ journey to sobriety, including ‘Big Issue’ magazine turf wars and a particularly harrowing ‘cold turkey’ sequence as James attempts to kick his methadone habit under Bob’s vertically pupiled supervision. This emotional manipulation, though obvious as it is occurring, can only be decreed as thoroughly effective once the final credits roll.

Despite multiple gingers being cast to play the part of Bob, the titular feline is actually played by the real-life bewhiskered hero of the drama himself, and his journey through the film is rendered evocatively by way of distorted lensed images taken from Bob’s point of view, which gives us a playful insight into the life of James Bowen’s furry companion. James is played by up-and-coming young actor Luke Treadaway, who aptly conveys the bleak struggle of the recovering drug addict. Ruta Gedmintas, Treadaway’s real life long-term girlfriend, is as endearing and distractingly model-pretty as Belle, a kooky, hippy vegan, who volunteers at the local veterinary clinic and befriends both man and cat whilst coping with the loss of her brother to substance abuse. James’ absent father is played by Nigel Bowen who delivers here as the bumbling standoffish paternal figure, not unlike his time as Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The film features heart-warmingly familiar sights from in and around central London, most notably Covent Garden at Christmas time, where Bowen would actually play his guitar with Bob perched on his shoulders and peering at the busker’s assembled street-side audience.

Roger Spottiswoode’s latest is a feline feelgood with just the right amount of grit. However, A Streetcat Named Bob achieves an emotional equilibrium unlike any animal companion film to date, and should prove a pleasant surprise for even the most devoted of ‘dog people’.

Gordon Brennan

102 minutes

12A (See IFCO for details)

A Street Cat Named Bob is released 4th November 2016

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