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A Street Cat Named Bob (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 21, 2020

A Street Cat Named Bob

A Street Cat Named Bob


Starring Luke Treadaway, Ruta Gedmontas, Joanne Froggatt, Anthony Head, Caroline Goodall, Ruth Sheen, Darren Evans, Beth Goddard, Nina Wadia, Franc Ashman, Ivana Basic, Lorraine Ashbourne, Mark Behan, Daniel Fearn, Adam Riches, Nadine Marshall, John Henshaw, James Bowen and Bob.

Screenplay by Tim John and Maria Nation.

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing International.  102 minutes.  Not Rated.

Hollywood history is full of man and his dog stories, however despite the fact that there are even more pet cats than dogs in American households, there are very rarely cat films.

Which is why it’s kind of nice that in recent weeks, I have seen two films that feature a sweet feline whose appearance helps to save the life of a lost soul.  Both films are foreign, no big surprise, a few weeks ago it was the Norwegian adaptation of the surprise best-selling feel-good novel A Man Called Ove, and now comes a British adaptation of the surprise best-selling feel-good memoir A Street Cat Named Bob.  (Obviously, cats have more pull in the publishing world than in film.)

But, hmm… perhaps there is an audience for cat films.  After all, there are tens of thousands of popular videos on YouTube which are basically just cats acting cute.  You could do a whole lot worse for source material.

To its credit, though, A Street Cat Named Bob, while it does take advantage of its title character’s natural adorableness, it does not rely on the cuteness factor fully.  This is a story of a man and his cat, not simply a cat.  Through friendship with the cat, the man – a homeless, drug-addicted street musician – is able to find his place in the world and to overcome his demons.

As stated before, A Street Cat Named Bob is based on a series of books by former street musician-turned-author and charity worker James Bowen.  (Bowen himself gets a cameo in the film as a man at a book signing.)  Bowen is well played by the relatively unknown actor Luke Treadaway.

When we meet Bowen, he is in bad shape.  He is a street musician who is barely scraping by.  He has no home.  He is trying to overcome a heroin addiction on a methadone program.  He is estranged from his father (Anthony Head), who has remarried and started a new family and appears to want nothing to do with his ne’er-do-well son.  His only sorta friend is Baz (Darren Evans), a junkie who keeps trying to drag Bowen into trouble situations.

The only person who seems to hold out any hope for Bowen is his social worker Val (Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey).  Val believes that Bowen can beat his habit and pull his life together, so she goes out on a limb to get him a run-down council flat to live in.  His first night in his new home, he hears a noise out in the apartment.  He walks around in the dark looking for a burglar.  What he finds is a ginger tabby cat who was so hungry he broke into James’ supply of cornflakes.

He has no idea that this cat will end up being a big part of his life.  However, the cat has chosen him and quickly makes it obvious that he has no intention of leaving.  Not only that, having the cat around causes Bowen to care for something other than himself.  It also helps him get to know the adorable girl-next-door Betty (Ruta Gedmintas).  And, quickly, Bowens finds that busking with a cat there acting cute actually draws bigger crowds and gets more tips.

It is a sweet and charming story, and while the film is not afraid to stare down some of the darker aspects of Bowen’s life – particularly the week spent cleaning up from the methadone program – it may slightly sugar-coat some Bowen’s darker moments.

Which is okay, the movie is really supposed to be about how a selfish and addicted man comes to learn to care for others through the love of a pet.  And in that measure, A Street Cat Named Bob succeeds magically.

The opening credits and posters say that Bob the cat plays himself, and that is partially true, but the untrained title cat is only one of several cats used to bring the role to life.  However, whether it is the real deal or one of Bob’s little kitty body doubles, the cat is a constantly entrancing screen presence.  The film does not make Bob do lots of tricks or cutesy acts.  Just the act of being himself is enough, sitting regally on a battered guitar while James sings to a crowd of London passersby.

A Street Cat Named Bob is definitely programmed to become a feel-good favorite.  The pleasant news is that the movie is definitely worthy of the good vibes.  If you only see one man-and-his-cat movie this year, this would be the choice.  But why limit yourself?  I’m hoping the Bob and Ove start a whole new kitty renaissance on film.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2016 All rights reserved. Posted: November 27, 2016.

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