Based on the international best selling book. The true feel good story of how James Bowen, a busker and recovering drug addict, had his life transformed when he met a stray ginger cat.
When I was given the opportunity to review “A Street Cat Named Bob,” I had to do a little research as I had heard nothing about it in advance. Come to find out, it was actually based on a true story set in London about a man, James Bowen, who while trying to change his homeless life around, one day encounters a ginger cat in his flat and the two become buddies. Sounds like a movie-of-the-week but thanks to some deft direction from Roger Spottiswoode, the man responsible for some truly great action flicks such as “Air America,” “Turner & Hooch,” “The 6th Day,” and the James Bond outing, “Tomorrow Never Dies,” the cast, and feline, are in good hands.
James (Luke Treadaway) is homeless and living on the streets of London. All he has with him is his guitar and the clothes on his back and he busks wherever and whenever he can. He is also a recovering drug addict, trying to stay clean while working on improving his life. With a little help from his support worker Val (Joanne Froggatt), she manages to secure a small bedsit for him, enough to keep him warm and dry, provided that he stays clean. She informs him that if any of his random drug tests come back positive for narcotics, he’ll be out on the street. In the earlier part of the movie, we witness James living, sleeping and foraging for food on the streets but when he finally gets his own place, you feel a great sense of relief for him, and when he settles into a hot bath, for the first time in years, only then do you realize that you are truly invested in the character.
He makes friends with his neighbor Belle (Ruta Gedmintas), who just happens to work for the RSPCA and one night, awoken from sleep, James discovers a ginger cat in his living room. Thinking the feline probably belongs to a neighbor, he spends the next day trying to return the animal but with little success. Noticing injuries on the cat, he asks Belle to help him out and once back home, the two become inseparable. He names the cat Bob and he accompanies James whenever he busks and crowds begin to form, wanting to get a glimpse of the musical duo. With a little cash coming in, James is tempted to go back on the drugs but not wanting to throw away what little he has built up, he tells Val he is ready to come off the Methadone, the drug which has replaced his heroin use and when she warns him that the withdrawal symptoms will be pure hell, he insists on moving forward anyway. Watching James undergo this process is both harrowing and heartbreaking but with Bob by his side, he eventually makes it out of the dark.
For a supposed family-friendly film, it certainly does not shy away from depicting life on the streets and drug use. The movie walks a fine line between oversentimentality and unrelenting grimness and every now and again, it veers slightly into schmaltzy preposterousness but for a film of this ilk, that is to be expected. It all ends with James getting a book deal and rekindling his relationship with his estranged father and if it weren’t for the fact that this all happened in real life, the movie would most certainly not be receiving the glowing reviews it has so earned. I might also point out that the cat used in the film, is the real-life Bob that is still alive today and lives with James in his new house.
Luke Treadaway plays the conflicted but determined James with great conviction and it is his sole performance, that literally carries the movie. Joanne Froggatt and Ruta Gedmintasare are both admirable in their respective roles but it is Mr. Treadaway that shines here. If you’re curious about the real life James Bowen and Bob the Street Cat, you can look them up on YouTube.
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