Starring: Luke Treadway, Ruta Gedmintas, Joanne Froggatt, Anthony Head Director: Roger Spottiswoode Running Time: 103 mins
While the history of cinema has a reasonably successful track record with feel-good movies of the canine variety; the same can’t really be said for our feline friends. A Street Cat Named Bob aims to change all that. Despite what the trailers would have you believe, the film is not just an unbearable chocolate-box of banal sentiment and uplifting fluff. It is, in all fairness, a mildly engaging human/feline interest story; One that just so happens to include a healthy dose of that banal fluffy sentiment we all know and love.
Based on the apparently much talked about real-life story, and a best-selling novel of the same name, the film revolves around a homeless musician named James Bowen who finds companionship in the aforementioned street cat, Bob.
At the start of the film James is living rough, struggling with a heroin addiction. With a guitar on his back, he scrapes by on what precious scraps and coins he can get from busking. After accidentally over-dosing and waking up in hospital, he is approached by his support worker Val (Joanne Froggatt). James proceeds to play Val a nice soulful song or two. Val must like music – she decides it’s time to get this guy off the streets and into emergency housing. And so it is here in his swanky new damp flat that James meets Bob – an admittedly striking stray ginger cat who comes in through the kitchen window and refuses to leave. James, despite some initial reluctance, decides to keep this adorably needy stray and things start looking up in life.
The rest is really just too exciting to go spoiling for you here.
While the film is riddled with clichés, it surprisingly avoids a handful of the ones you might expect it to exploit. As a recovering addict it would be easy to wring some drama from James falling off the wagon and starting to use again. The story doesn’t really go there. While this could be said to be a welcome subversion of expectations, that may be giving the film a bit too much credit. One has to consider the fact that they simply wanted to avoid exploring anything too dark; or that the real life story just isn’t all that exciting to begin with.
In fact, A Street Cat Named Bob ultimately has very little dramatic stakes of any kind, with the climax of the third act being a decidedly low key affair involving a couple of pesky dogs. (The resolution of which is capped off with a delightfully unnecessary slow motion close up of a certain title character.) One drug related scene late in the game does stand out as being hilariously bizarre as well… As if the director suddenly decided he was making the PG sequel to Trainspotting.
Performances in the film are fairly decent. Luke Treadway, twin brother of Penny Dreadful’s Harry Treadway, is likable as James. It would seem both brothers have a knack for playing deceptively handsome disheveled drug addicts. With a bit of grime under his fingernails, and mildly greasy hair, he appears just scruffy enough to match his character’s circumstances. Treadway is soft-spoken and natural in his delivery, with the only awkward moments coming when he is forced to look straight into the camera and deliver his lines as if he is talking to Bob. This “cat’s-eye-view” in general is rather unnecessary and somewhat misguided; it aims to put us in Bob’s shoes but just kind of comes across as cheap and tacky.
Ruta Gedmintas, who some people may know from Guillermo del Toro’s so-so vampire series The Strain, is unexpectedly charming as Belle – the film’s love interest. Her character appears to be one of the most ridiculously extreme examples of the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ trope imaginable. No doubt this happy-go-lucky portrayal is an exaggeration of her real life counterpart Kirsty Shirley, who apparently ended up sleeping with James’s step-father and, shockingly, revealed she never liked Bob in the first place. In any case, Gedmintas has excellent chemistry with Treadway. With good reason as it turns out – the two actors are in a relationship in real life. Their scenes together are some of the more effective and touching moments in the movie.
In keeping with the apparent “who’s who of TV vampire series” theme we’ve got going here, fans of Buffy The Vampire Slayer will be glad to know that Anthony Head has not been forgotten about. He pops up for a few brief but important scenes, and brings his usual paternal gravitas.
Then of course there’s Bob, played by the cat himself. Let’s be honest – cats are cute, but they don’t really give a damn about people. Bob doesn’t appear to be any different. Sure he’s incredibly calm, apparently extremely loyal and loves a good high-five, but there’s nothing to suggest that this little critter (much like a certain other fanged creature of the night) isn’t just hanging around his human host looking for his next meal.
To be fair to the film, it may be easy to knock it for its sickly sweet tone, or the pretty transparent cash-grab nature of both it and it’s source material, but A Street Cat Named Bob is fine for what it is.
As a story about the journey of a recovering addict, the film is fairly tame. As a harmless feel-good story about inter-species friendship, and the adorable self-absorbed pet who helps a man discover a renewed sense of purpose in life, the film is reasonably worth two hours of your time.
Those with a life defining love of cats are sure to relish the attention that’s finally being paid to their favorite four legged fur-balls. Those hoping for an intimate character study, or those with an exclusive love for man’s true best friend, might want to give this a miss.
A Street Cat Named Bob hits Irish cinemas on Nov 4th.(2.5 / 5)