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A Street Cat Named Bob

Based on a true tale, this account of addiction and animals benefits from a star turn by the titular feline as himself.
A Street Cat Named Bob

 Bob in A Street Cat Named Bob. Image via Sony Pictures.

In 2007, a friendly feline entered an addict's life and rescued him from his struggles. In the film based on their encounter, the very same mouser — playing himself — endeavours to do the same. Art reflects reality in A Street Cat Named Bob, not only regarding the true tale, but also remaining relevant in the way the feature endeavours to win audiences over. Relying on a raft of melodramatic clichés to relate a story about drugs and homelessness proves much easier when there's an adorable, engaging animal star taking centre stage.

While the titular cat was everything that James Bowen (Luke Treadaway, TV’s Fortitude) didn't know he needed as he tried to step slowly back into something resembling a normal life after a heroin overdose, Bob is exactly what director Roger Spottiswoode (Midnight Sun) requires, as he's well aware, to make the big screen version of Bowen’s bestselling book reach beyond Ken Loach meets movie-of-the-week territory. With Turner & Hooch on his resume, the veteran helmer is no stranger to working with animals, smartly letting his creature do the charming. And, alongside Treadaway’s carefully judged turn, to provide the film's main source of nuance. 

James dwells in cookie-cutter street-living misery when the film opens: daily hits of methadone supply the high points in his bland routine, literally, which otherwise involves busking throughout London to get by. His father (Anthony Head, Dominion), who ostensibly abandoned him as a child when James moved to Australia with his mother, is far from sympathetic, though social worker Val (Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey) sees a glimmer hope, securing him an apartment. That's where Bob wanders in and won't leave, even taking to James' shoulders to accompany him as he sings. They comprise quite the attention-grabbing double act, but, more than that, the cute critter provides ample motivation for his new owner to get his life back on track.

It shouldn’t be surprising that screenwriters Tim John (Dennis & Gnasher) and Maria Nation (Debbie Macomber's Dashing Through the Snow) hit all of the standard marks, including a flailing friend in worse circumstances (Darren Evans, Galavant), an overly disapproving mother-in-law (Beth Goddard, Queen of the Desert) and a vegan love interest (Ruta Gedmintas, The Strain). Steeped in actuality as A Street Cat Named Bob may be, watching the expected elements pile up dictates the narrative. And yet, the feature still toils to give more than a glimpse of James’ despairing existence throughout, affording Bob's arrival and impact true emotional heft, rather than simply using it to set the scene.

Indeed, A Street Cat Named Bob is an effort that tries to split the difference between grimness and grittiness on one side and loveable and feel-good on the other, both overtly and sometimes awkwardly. The work of cinematographer Peter Wunstorf (The Little Deputy) and composer David Hirschfelder (The Dressmaker) makes that apparent, with heartstring tugging winning out; however, that the imbalance ultimately favours warmth suits its feline star. He’s a ball of cute fluff in a movie that makes that plain, and so, even as it steeps its titular character in based-on-reality bleakness, his adorable nature still wins out. Bob was a beacon of hope off-screen, and remains the same in the predictable but pleasantly palatable adaptation of his story.



Rating: 3 stars out of 5

A Street Cat Named Bob

Director: Roger Spottiswoode       

UK, 2016, 106 mins

Release date: February 9

Distributor: Sony

Rated: PG

Sarah Ward

Monday 27 February, 2017

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay