The world can seem a gloomy place if you pay too much attention to the news, which more often than not abides by the old adage that ‘if it bleeds it leads.’ Thus, people can sometimes lose sight of cinema’s capacity for escapism, which is why I advocate that people ensure they at least get a monthly dose of feel-good cinema, like 2016’s A Street Cat Named Bob. While the film is far from perfect, it certainly possesses enough good intention, strong acting, and capable direction from Roger Spottiswoode to deserve your time, especially when you are in need of a pick-me-up from an overly tough day.
A Street Cat Named Bob is based on the true story and book of the same name by James Bowen (Luke Treadaway), a former homeless busker who struggled with heroin addiction, which he used as a means to escape the harsh realities of life on the London streets. After a near-fatal overdose, James is given a second chance when he is placed in assisted living, yet it is not his new home that grants hope of a new life, but the cat which he encounters there, Bob.
As both my description of the story and the title would suggest, Bob is the film’s core character in many ways, and he certainly does not disappoint. Portrayed by number of cats, including the real Bob himself, it is easy to see what all the fuss is about, and why the book was an international bestseller.
Spottiswoode’s direction places Bob’s roguish charms front and centre, yet he is not just some hollow centrepiece for the audiences to dote on, but the catalyst through which James’ character grows in the most significant of ways. Although, this also comes at a cost.
While there are some beautifully captured shots of Bob that instill a sense of intimacy, the director uses an array of first-person (or first-cat, if you will) shots from Bob’s perspective, which I found misguided to say the least. I understand Spottiswoode’s admirable intentions here to highlight what he believes to be the film’s central character, while granting an unprecedented level of relatability with the cat and his own perspective, but this was lost on me more often than not. The end result is a messy mishmash of shaky camerawork and equally shaky editing that removed me from the experience at some key moments.
Thankfully the likeable and talented cast usually dash these issues, such as Treadaway and his love-interest, portrayed by his real-life girlfriend Ruta Gedmintas, who share an undeniable chemistry and elevate the emotional stakes in the buildup to the third act.
In fact, their bond is so natural that I was willing to forgive the occasional conspicuousness of the screenplay. Overall, A Street Cat Named Bob is well-written and sympathetic without being oversentimental, but when, for example, Gedmintas’ character almost immediately declares her complete avoidance of drug addicts after first meeting James (unaware that James himself is a recovering drug addict), it feels unavoidably obvious. This might work in a less grounded comedy, but in a drama like this it lacks essential tact.
In spite of my somewhat mixed comments, I feel obliged to point out that I did ultimately enjoy A Street Cat Named Bob, and found myself smiling even as the credits rolled, which delivers a montage of the real James with his beloved companion. This is the type of film you owe to yourself every once in a while, as a reminder that not everyone is lost to the world and that cinema can justify a happy ending. It may not be Spottiswoode’s finest cinematic achievement, but it delivers all the charm and warmth that is to be expected from an upbeat story about the life-changing bond between a man and his cat.