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Cats have taken over the world. They have certainly taken over the internet with many becoming celebrities. One of them being Bob the Street Cat, a ginger tom who helped his own human through his drug addiction and homeless life. He has become the star of the series of books and now there is a film based on his life with Bob starring as himself.
James Bowen (Luke Treadaway) is a homeless busker living on the streets of London. After nearly dying from a drug overdose, James was given emergency housing and placed in a drug recovery program. On James’ first night in his new flat he gets a furry interloper. After the ginger cat who is later named Bob imposes himself on James’ life he gets adopted by the busker. They quickly become an attraction in Covent Garden as James tries to overcome his addiction and rebuild his life.
A lot of the marketing for A Street Cat Named Bob has focused on Bob playing himself and there is a cuteness overload involving the ginger beast. Bowen and Bob have been touring morning shows and chat shows in the UK and he is clearly a disciplined cat, his party trick is doing a high five and when I saw him once he was patiently sitting on the ground. Bob probably didn’t require much training for his big screen role.
A Street Cat Named Bob was directed by Roger Spottiswoode, a filmmaker who has had an incredibly erratic career. One of his most famous movies is Turner& Hooch – a Tom Hanks comedy where a cop has to live with a big drooly dog, so it made sense for him to direct this movie. Much of the humor comes from Bob, usually based on his reactions or through the editing and sound effects to events. Moments include Bob being put in the cone of the shame and been given tofu. Cat owners can empathize with some of the cat behavior including James trying to stop Bob following him and failing. It has happened to me, and it wasn’t even my own cat. As one well-wisher says to James “he was very lucky to have a ginger tom” and most cat owners would agree because they are generally friendly. However, other moments – like when Bob was being disruptive in James’ father’s house – were awkward to watch.
The main issue with the movie is tonal – it was trying to be both a cutesy comedy about a man and his cat and be a serious drama about someone overcoming a drug addiction and looking at the life of a homeless person. The movie opens with James rummaging through trash for food and trying to find a space to spend the night before nearly dying from a heroin overdose. The movie is peppered with these sorts of moments which partly affects its appeal because parents might not feel comfortable taking younger children because of the subject matter with drugs: yet children are the audience most likely to enjoy Bob’s antics. It is jarring to have scenes of a cat doing cats things against scenes of James going through the tough task of getting clean.
The screenplay was also unsure on what to focus on. Of course there’s the story of James wanting to get clean and his cat being a companion during his lowest moments and his ticket to fame, but it was unsure as to what the subplot was meant to be: there was one where James starts a relationship with his neighbor, Betty (Ruta Gedmintas), a vegan hippy animal lover and someone who was totally against drugs, leading to a predictable hiding and reveal. The other subplot involves James trying to reconcile with his dad, which is only briefly touched upon – despite this, Anthony Head was able to convey his complex feelings towards his son with just his facial expressions.
Playing a character whose recovering from addiction is often a good way for an actor to get attention – and Luke Treadaway took his opportunity. He was at his best when James was irate because of stress and missing a dose of methadone. Scenes of someone going cold turkey are often challenging for both actor to perform and the audience to watch and Treadaway success with his sequence where he was ‘riding the bike.’ The movie was also strong at showing how desperate James’ could get – when he was unable to work as a busker he was pretty much living on pennies.
Bowden originally acquired Bob back in 2007 and the book was published in 2012 – the movie version takes play over the course of a few months. Bowden makes a cameo towards the end of the movie and what he says seems like a justification for the changes that were made to his story. It’s the only way to look pass some of the anachronisms like posters for movies and musicals that weren’t out when Bowden was on the streets. One of my favorite mistakes is the publishers saying Bowden was all over Youtube but then showed a different website on screen.
A Street Cat Named Bob was a tonally mixed movie, wanting to be a heart-warming tale about a man and his cat and a serious examination of issues like homelessness, drug addiction and rehabilitation in a way that’s accessible to a more mainstream audience. It was a noble endeavor and animal lovers will enjoy Bob’s antics.