James Bowen (Luke Treadaway), a homeless, recovering drug addict, ekes out a meagre dangerous existence busking on the streets of London. When his kindly support worker Val (Joanne Froggatt) finds him some accommodation, it brings him into contact with an injured ginger cat and animal lover Bettie (Ruta Gedmintas). Both will change his life.
It is easy to see why A Street Cat Named Bob, James Bowen’s real life account of how a ginger moggy turned his life away from drugs and desperation, has made it to the screen. Based on a best-selling book, it offers a huge, potentially emotional character arc and a social-media-friendly cat story, all wrapped up in an upbeat tale of hope, unlikely friendship and redemption. Sadly, Roger Spottiswoode’s film never really delivers on the promise of the premise.
Bob starts squarely in Ken Loach territory. Early scenes flit between Bowen busking in the rain, trying to stay away from drugs (unfortunately not meow meow) and run-ins with his patient support worker Val. Once James is found accommodation — in an understated touch, the ex-homeless man sits on the floor, not the furniture — the story explores his relationship with animal activist neighbour Bettie, frosty encounters with his posh dad (Anthony Head) and his new-found friendship with an injured cat who does wonders for his busking.
It's suffused with a generosity of spirit but, given the elements, it should hit harder.
All this is predictable storytelling stuff — will Bettie discover James’ lies about being a user? Will James reunite with his estranged father? Will Bob go missing at the end of the second act? — but doesn’t establish enough conflicts, especially in the middle section, or hooks to engage.
Spottiswoode directed Tom Hanks-and-a-dog ‘classic’ Turner & Hooch so he has form in animal buddy comedy. Yet he never finds a tone that allows hard-hitting social drama (there is a death by drug overdose) and family film hijinks (a dog chases Bob through a crowded street). He also throws in a cat POV cam, replicating what Bob sees, that feels like a gimmick, adding nothing to our understanding of their relationship. Similarly, the screenplay doesn’t manage to find ways to electrify the drama in Bowen’s life. The key turning point of the drama — Bowen going cold turkey — is parlayed in a listless montage.
It’s a cute picture — you’ll lose count of the cutaways to Bob’s face — but not a cynical one. Treadaway’s Bowen is easy to like, Froggatt’s Val is a warm presence and it is suffused with a generosity of spirit towards the dispossessed. Yet given the elements, A Street Cat Named Bob should really hit harder.
A Street Cat Named Bob has its heart in the right place but doesn’t quite land on a tone to unite hard hitting drama and a cat-based comedy.