Film review | A Street Cat Named Bob: Holiday schmaltz with a welcome side of grit

A bestselling literary phenomenon that incorporates childhood trauma and a cute cat • 3/5

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
23 November 2016, 8:38am
Luke Treadaway and ‘Bob’ take you on a heartwarming journey of a recovering drug addict’s redemptive arc, via cat
Luke Treadaway and ‘Bob’ take you on a heartwarming journey of a recovering drug addict’s redemptive arc, via cat
Never work with children or animals, the old bit of theatre wisdom goes. The logic of it all is impeccable: both entities are unpredictable at best and unruly at worst, making them perfectly misaligned to the needs of the acting profession, in which rote repetition is key. But while the performers themselves may be unpredictable, the economic benefits of them sitting still in front of a camera tends to be both predictable, and encouraging, to the people divvying up the accounts. 

To wit: films about kids will make film studios money, and films about animals are bound to do even better. And you know what will up that equation exponentially? A bestselling literary phenomenon that incorporates childhood trauma and a cute cat… and which is a rags-to-riches tale to boot.

In this case, director Roger Spottiswoode – who has directed animal-starring features not once, but twice, with Turner and Hooch (1989) and Midnight Sun (2004) – adapts the real-life story of James Bowen (Luke Treadaway), a not-so-successfully-recovering heroin addict who finds a new lease on life when the ginger cat ‘Bob’ enters into it. Having become an emotional wreck following the break-up of his parents – which in turn left him yoying between Australia and the UK – James eventually succumbs to homelessness and becomes estranged from his father Nigel (Anthony Head), which guarantees he has no safety blanket to fall on. 

He takes to busking to eke out a pathetic existence, which only leads him to relapse. When his support worker Val (Joanne Froggatt) champions his case against all odds and gets him a place on a rehabilitation program and a flat to stay in, it is a take-it-or-leave-it-offer… one whose pressures become increasingly more manageable once Bob steps through the council flat window and into James’s life. 

Will they, won’t they? Ruta Gedmintas and Treadaway
Will they, won’t they? Ruta Gedmintas and Treadaway
Though he’s reluctant to keep him on as a pet at first, the persistent Bob becomes a fixture in James’s busking career, skyrocketing him to comparative financial security after the pair become a sought-after viral sensation on Covent Garden. But the emotional pressure of staying clean – coupled with a will-they-won’t-they chance at romance with an eccentric bohemian neighbour, Belle (Ruta Gedmintas) – means that James has his (emotional) work cut out for him. 

Yes, of course it’s a shamelessly mawkish piece of comedy-drama, but Spottiswoode directs it with care and grace, balancing the generic beats of the story – Bowen’s book is adapted by Tim John and Maria Nation – with a gritty portrayal of London that reminds us why this story can inspirational: these are mean streets indeed. The brittle Treadaway is a perfect piece of casting for our beleaguered protagonist: a skinny and tatty lump of emotional need whose eyes just scream, “help me”. The picture-perfect Gedmintas, on the other hand, is far less convincing: too polished for the harsh world of which she is supposedly a master, she veers too close to being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype, parachuted into the film from somewhere else to give our hero purpose and direction.

But though it remains entirely unchallenging throughout – save for some risky heartstring-pulling – A Streetcat Named Bob skates on the right side of schmaltz and offers a heartwarming pre-Christmas trip to cinema that should just about assuage the fallout of the dreary November weather we’ve been having.

Ah, who am I kidding. You came here for the cat. And no… appearing as himself for the bulk of the film’s duration, the original Bob does not disappoint.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...