The true story of James Bowen and Bob the cat in A Street Cat Named Bob is a soul test: If you have one you’ll enjoy it (soul, heart, conscience, pick your word: if you’re not a sociopath, this movie will touch you).
The press for this film calls it a “feel-good” story and while it does get there down a long and winding road, a lot of it is spent in the dark desperate time for James Bowen when he was addicted to heroine, homeless, and busking on the streets of London. Many of the people around Bowen are horrible and his situation is dire at times, so you’re going to earn the feel-good.
“Bob is as adrift as James and they form a team busking and selling papers on the street.”
Bowen sought help kicking heroine, and when his case worker gets him a temporary place to live he’s awakened one night with a crash to find a stray tabby cat eating his cereal. He sets off to find the cat’s owner. He and Bob have a series of adventures including trips to the vet and Bob riding the bus to downtown. Ultimately, of course, Bob is as adrift as James and they form a team busking and selling papers on the street. Bob’s appeal to cat-lovers makes James more approachable and his fortunes begin to turn as people come to hear him sing and to see Bob. They have a fan base.
Bob opens other doors for James. People like Betty, who might have written James off, are there to help with Bob, and it gives the couple enough time and space to find attraction and shared interests. With the comfort and companionship of Bob, James does kick his addiction, reunites with his father, and moves his life in a positive direction. Bob just likes to ride on the bike or the bus and wear his scarf.
“…a lovely film that will make you feel better about things.”
Luke Treadaway as Bowen couldn’t be more perfect for the role. He embodies Bowen as a man who’s lost his way but still has a good heart and ambition and earnestly wants to fit in society again. Anthony Head as Bowen’s father is a nice surprise for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: It’s like Giles is back in London undercover as this junkie’s estranged father. I’m sure that’s no joke to Head, who will pretty much be Giles for life.
There’s a lot of reality in the movie. It’s based on Bowen’s book about his life, the actual Bob the cat was cast as one of several feline thespians, and Treadaway’s real life girlfriend, Ruta Gedmintas, plays Betty. Bowen himself makes a rather precious cameo in the book-signing scene near the end of the film. That appearance would have been a bit much if the timing had been off, but by then you’re in the soft-kitty-warm-kitty glow and relief at the happy ending and it works well. Is that a spoiler? Nah. This isn’t Trainspotting with a cat. It’s not John Wick 3: avenging Bob. No, Bowen cleaned himself up with the help of Bob, wrote a successful book, sold the movie rights, and here we are.
The music is awesome, Treadaway is awesome, Bob is a cat, which is awesome. It’s a lovely film that will make you feel better about things. There are a lot of reasons to watch movies and this is a great one when you need to reaffirm that good things can still happen.
A Street Cat Named Bob (2017) Directed by Roger Spottiswoode. Written by James Bowen, Gary Jenkins, Tim John, Maria Nation. Starring Luke Treadaway, Bob the cat, Ruta Gedmintas.
7 out of 10