It sounds like a Disney-style pet-hero tale, but A Street Cat Named Bob (2016) is anything but cute. It’s a harrowing and ultimately heart-warming true story of a recovering drug-addict desperately trying to reclaim his life with all the odds stacked against him. Shunned by human society, his saviour is a ginger moggie called Bob.
James Bowen (Luke Treadaway) comes from a broken family and was on drugs for many years. His remarried father does not want him around and friends are scarce on the streets where drugs are everywhere, bashings common, and in his words, “life is a constant shit-storm”. Just as he looks like losing his battle with drugs, a sympathetic support worker finds him his own place to live. He ekes out a living by busking, with the coins earned more for sincerity than talent. One day a hurt cat sneaks into his flat, offering companionship and something to love. Soon the couple are a performing duo with Bob the cat sitting on his shoulder or guitar doing high-fives on cue. The crowds love it, he meets a girl, and a future seems possible. But first he must come off methadone which he is told is like “the worse flu you have ever had multiplied by a hundred”; the withdrawal scenes confirm the prediction.
Being an adaptation of an autobiography imparts a semi-documentary feel to the film that has little depth or tension. The only sign of originality is the moggie. This is not necessarily a criticism, as the film is based on a real life rather than action-driven fiction. It also provides space for the film to take a more light-hearted view on what life is like being down-and-out with a cat. So expect several scenes of busking, chatting to Bob, and the obligatory dog-chases-cat skit. The filming gives special emphasis to Bob’s point of view, with cameras tucked inside mouse-holes and other moggie-level places that bring a child-like perspective to the story. Treadaway is believable as a permanently dishevelled street survivor but the film’s only interesting personality is his maybe-or-maybe-not girlfriend Betty (Ruta Gedmintas) whose incongruously glamourous presence almost dominates the story. Needless to say, Bob’s acting is superb.
Pet-hero films are a genre that exploit audience’s love of animals and this one mercifully avoids the usual tropes and tricks of the talking-animal narrator. While entertaining, it also offers an idealised version of reality that would be the envy of many who struggle with drug-dependency in a world not even fit for animals. Few homeless street dwellers achieve fame and it is ironic that so much of Jamie’s rehabilitation is credited to a cat. No doubt conservative policy makers who are responsible for alleviating homelessness and funding drug rehabilitation will increasingly turn to cat-shelters for solutions. But it is undoubtedly a feel-good story despite some gritty realism and one that will please enthusiastic cat-lovers everywhere.
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Stars: Luke Treadaway, Bob the Cat, Ruta Gedmintas, Joanne Froggatt