A Street Cat Named Bob isn’t a good title. It’s cringey and has a lack of originality, relying on the chuckle it might provoke to save it from charges of laziness, looking up to what it’s sending up for validation.
It’s also bad luck that the story’s main components have already been seen and nailed before: Trainspotting’s skag story, Once’s down-on-his-luck talented busker and Inside Llewyn Davis’ ginger cat companion. Street Cat, meshing all these together, suffers from a sense of dilution. It’s like a game of mash. If you haven’t seen any of those, consider yourself lucky (and then go and watch them. Go on.)
You might be surprised, then, to find that A Street Cat Named Bob is indeed original, based on a true-life tale chronicled in a book of the same name and, title aside, A Street Cat Named Bob is a rather sweet film.
The story follows the real-life James Bowen (Luke Treadway), a homeless heroin addict busking on the streets of London. He has a father who ignores him when he sees him on the street, a fellow addict mate who acts as an enabler, collects pennies for his melodies and his dinners from bins. He’s in need of a friend. Enter ginger cat Bob played, adorably, by the real-life Bob himself.
An easily likeable duo
Where the film succeeds—and it does, for the most part—is on the main friendship at the heart of the story, of Bowen and Bob. They’re an easily likable duo and seemingly genuine buddies, as far as a cat can be. Bob’s charming, all big eyes and meows, (generally as far as a cats acting range stretches) while Treadaway’s junkie Chris Martin wins you over from the get‑go. He never moans, never blames anyone else and the tears only come when he’s let others down.
Director Roger Spottiswoode takes advantage of Bowen’s busking to put London front and centre. His London is optimistic, and though the city’s dodgier estates are draped in dinginess, red buses glean, bus conductors are friendly (and apparently still exist) and people on Oxford Street are just waiting to be nice to you. Think of the crisp and endearing London of 2014’s Paddington, with added heroin and absent fathers. But Spottiswoode straddles the darker and surprisingly honest look at addiction with hopefulness just right, using one to heighten the effect of the other.
A Junkie Chris Martin
It’s Ruta Gedmintas’ love interest story feels flat: a simple love interest, i.e. not very interesting. She’s the dictionary definition of ‘kooky’ (i.e. annoying), with a contrived drug-addiction family background that feels far too convenient (that’s because it is, with the character added for the film). The middle act of the will-they-won’t-they arc is thrown in too late in the day and clumsily resolved in the midst of the happy-clappy ending. The artistic license would’ve perhaps been best taken at the film’s climax, where—although true to the real-life story—things comes together a little too easily.
Though Street Cat can’t quite shake off its unwanted copycat style (pun intended) to films that have gone before it, alongside patches of contrived writing, the relationship of Bowen and Bob at the film’s core succeeds, with Treadaway engagingly carrying the film (and Bob) on his shoulders.
Featured Image via diymag.com