Okay, so A Street Cat Named Bob isn’t anyone’s idea of game-changing cinema. It’s undemanding, sentimental, family-friendly fare – but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth seeing. It’s undeniably uplifting, and – in this dark winter of political ferment – there’s something to be said for that.
Based on the best-selling book of the same title, A Street Cat Named Bob tells the true-life tale of James Bowen, a recovering addict, and the cat that helped him find his way. When the film opens, Bowen (Luke Treadaway) is living on the streets, enrolled on a methadone programme, but struggling to stay away from the heroin he’s addicted to. He’s busking to make ends meet but, although he’s clearly a decent singer-songwriter, there’s just too much chaos in his life. His key worker, Val (Joanne Froggatt), pulls some strings to get him set up in a flat, and stray cat Bob – making good use of an open window – decides he wants to move in too. Bob gives James a focus, a purpose; he depends on James and so James has to shape up. But it’s not a one-way street: the public are charmed by the sight of Bob perched on James’s shoulders while he busks, and his earnings increase dramatically. He and his cat become well-known, a social media sensation, and James seizes the chance to turn his life around. And, of course, there’s a love interest too, in the shape of Betty (Ruta Gedmintas), a quirky neighbour with a kind, kind heart.It’s impossible not to feel just the tiniest bit moved, and to delight in the change in Bowen’s fortune. It’s a Cinderella tale for the modern age.
The whole thing is well acted: Treadaway, in particular, is a joy to watch, and Anthony Head’s turn as Bowen’s hapless father is also a standout. However, despite dealing with the really serious issues of homelessness and addiction, the whole thing is bathed in a golden glow, and that’s the real problem here. We do see some of the desperation felt by those living on the street, and the pain felt by addicts just trying to get by. But stark reality is not allowed to interfere much with the feel good nature of this piece, and the solutions are all in the hands of the individual; there’s no suggestion of collective responsibility.
Entertaining, then, and uplifting as I said. But this is not a film that will change anything for anyone except its hero. He’s exceptional, not representative. The problems are all still there, behind this rose-tinted lens.