A connection is a delicate, difficult thing to forge and yet it is so precious. A Street Cat Named Bob, available May 9 on DVD, Blu-ray, and video on demand, is a warm and earnest feel-good story that true grumpy cats can fully appreciate. It has the cuteness you’d expect from its title but also grit in showing how hard it is to turn one’s life around without the right support.
Luke Treadaway, a British actor best known to American audiences as a supporting player in films such as Unbroken and Attack the Block, stars as James Bowen, a recovering heroin addict who busks with a guitar to support himself in London’s Covent Garden. Treadaway, who does his own singing and strumming, plays a talented character whose tunes fail to draw more than spare change, leaving him to forage in dumpsters and sleep on the streets.
Fortunately, his potential appeals to Val, his sympathetic social worker (Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey) who secures him emergency housing after an overdose so that he’ll stay on his methadone program. His first night in the small apartment brings a visitor: a ginger-colored tomcat with green eyes who breaks into a box of corn flakes. James tells the cat that he’s a lousy thief and offers him milk, some music, and a place to crash for the night, not realizing that a friendship was about to be born.
Fearing attachment, James tries to send the cat away. After the cat returns needing medical help, the two become inseparable. The cat follows James onto a city bus, perches on his guitar or shoulders, and makes them an eye-catching duo that attracts selfies, better gratuities and press attention. But the greatest impact comes from others recognizing James’ humanity, given the cat’s devotion.
As seen on Creative Loafing Tampa Bay
Based on the best-selling book A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life by Bowen and Garry Jenkins, the film is hardly unpredictable and runs a bit long at 1 hour forty-three minutes but it avoids pure saccharine by dramatizing how precarious any uptick in James’s circumstances can be. For instance, when some street people become jealous of the attention James and Bob draw, a fight ensues. James gets banned from busking and then from selling papers which jeopardize his housing and sobriety. James also tries to reconnect with his estranged father (Anthony Head of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and forms a tender friendship with Betty (Ruta Gedmintas of The Strain), a quirky neighbor who gives Bob his name.
The real-life Bob the Cat appears in the film, along with stand-ins. Director Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies) includes several shots from a cat’s-eye view, perhaps to show what Bob saw in James. But Treadaway has such kindness and fragility that even at his roughest, the Bob-O-Vision is unnecessary. Whether you’re a cat person or not, it’s hard to not be moved by this tale of a man whose cat’s redeeming vision helps him recognize the goodness in himself.