***1/2 (out of five)
Okay, this is what happened: James Bowen, a young Englishman from a broken home who had spent part of his youth in Australia, found himself in the serious predicament of living on the streets of London with only a guitar and a heroin habit. He busked for chump change and half-eaten Pret A Manger sandwiches and searched for dry ground at night. He tried multiple times to kick the habit by enrolling in a state-sponsored methadone program, each time relapsing.
During his last chance with the program, when he was showing more determination, staying off the gear and sticking with the methadone, his case-worker took a little pity on him and arranged for him to occupy an unused council flat. While there, he met a beautiful, free-spirited girl and a stray ginger cat. The girl, based purely on a vibe, named the cat Bob.
Caring for Bob gave James a purpose, and in order to fulfil it, he learned to care for himself – a little. He hung on tight to getting clean, but was still shambolic in life, ruining small opportunities. But Bob the Street Cat was the endless purveyor of luck – spoiler alert – and, through the simple act of looking cute on James’ shoulders as he busked or sold copies of The Big Issue, attracted cash, a newspaper story, a book deal, and now this rather excellent movie. Needless to say, James is no longer living on the streets.
But if that’s not enough, here’s the kicker: Bob plays himself in the movie (and extremely well).
Luke Treadaway is very good too, as are Ruta Gedmintas (who starred opposite Treadaway in You Instead (2011)) and Joanne Froggatt as his sympathetic case-worker. Indeed, all the supporting actors are strong, although much of the screen time is simply Treadaway and Bob. Prolific journeyman director Roger Spottiswoode seems to have found new spark in his seventies, keeping the vibe gritty and authentic, which is in itself remarkable for a film about a young man and a cat. He doesn’t shy away from needles, dealers, and the effects of addiction, and Treadaway – reflecting what I understand of the real Bowen – never looks quite clean, even when he’s clean. The film also offers what feels like an authentic glimpse into the lives of the “aspirational homeless”, including fascinating scenes inside the London Big Issue office that gave me massive respect for that magazine and all who work for it. Obviously not a movie for young kids, A Street Cat Named Bob is tough and tender, and a massive, welcome February surprise. I loved it.