We've seen lots of "a boy and his dog" films over the years (the best one of all being the sci-fi comedy A Boy And His Dog) but we haven't really had any "a boy and his cat" movies. Well, A Street Cat Named Bob rectifies that oversight. But as most cat lovers would know, it's not really "a man and his cat" but more "a cat and his man".
A Street Cat Named Bob is the tale of James Bowen (Luke Treadaway), a recovering drug addict who's sleeping rough and trying to make ends meet by busking around London. When his support worker, Val (Joanne Froggatt), gives him a final chance to get back on his feet by getting him into a north London council flat, James finds himself being adopted by a stray ginger cat that he names Bob, and the two become inseperable.
The story of James and Bob is well known in London – first came the newspaper and magazine articles, then the books and now, finally, the film. The pair of them became minor celebrities, in Covent Garden where James would busk with Bob sitting on his guitar case, and outside Angel tube station in Islington, where James sold The Big Issue with Bob sitting on his shoulder on the end of a leash. People would come up wanting to take selfies with the media-savvy moggy, who James taught to high-five.
But a film that is simply about a cat and his man does not have enough conflict or drama to sustain a narrative, and so we get some other characters and subplots thrown in. There's a budding romance swith James's hippy vegentarian neighbour Betty (Ruta Gedmintas), and the strained relationship with James dad Nigel (Anthony Head). But it's the relationship between James and Bob that mostly sustains the film, and it's heartwarming to watch the bond that develops between the two of them. Treadaway puts in a solid performance, but he's often outshone by Bob – who does play himself here, although he does have about half-a-dozen doubles (probably for the times he was busy taking a cat-nap).
The film does have its flaws. The tone is a little all over the place, and it can't quite decide whether its a dramatic social commentary or a comedy, and neither works completely. There are also a few scenes where Spottiswoode (who famously directed the 1989 Tom-Hanks-and-dog buddy comedy Turner and Hooch) shoots from Bob's POV – Bob being chased by a dog, or Bob chasing after a mouse – and that doesn't really work either. Still, it's an affable enough tale (tail?) of redemption that has its heart in the right place.