Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Years ago, I heard about A Street Cat Named Bob, a memoir written by a man who credits his survival to a cat. It was not the first time I had heard about someone with an addiction problem crediting an animal with helping them kick the habit and get their life back on track. Look at Jackson Galaxy, for example. Cats often get a bad rap as being aloof and independent, but they can also be very loving and get very attached to the human they choose as their own. I haven’t read this book, but when I found I could rent the film based on the story, I jumped at the opportunity.
To say he is down on his luck when we first meet James Bowen (Luke Treadaway) is an understatement. A homeless musician with only the clothes on his back, a beat-up guitar and a drug addiction, James is trying to stick with the methadone program, but depression is seeping in. When he runs into his friend Baz (Darren Evans) on a particularly chilly, rainy night and he offers to share some of his score and the car he just happened to find unlocked, it’s not surprising that James decides to partake in both.
Mixing methadone and heroin is never a good idea and James finds himself in the hospital. Val (Joanne Froggatt), his drug support worker, sees something in James that makes her believe he should get another chance at life. She finds him housing and gets him to promise to commit to the program wholeheartedly. He continues busking in London, hoping to build a new life for himself, but nervous all the same.
In walks Bob…quite literally – while James is taking a bath, he hears a crashing sound in the apartment. Searching for what he believes to be a human intruder, he instead finds one of the feline variety chowing down on his Corn Flakes. James finds the cat friendly, so much so that he doesn’t seem to want to leave. He allows him to stay the night and finds him ensconced beside him in bed. James searches for his newfound friend’s owner in vain.
Heading off to work, he leaves the cat outdoors, but returns to find him injured. A neighbor named Betty (Ruta Gedmintas) directs him to a free vet clinic she volunteers at but, though the initial treatment is free, the medication costs money. He decides to use money he just received from his estranged father (Anthony Head) to pay for the medication, thus sealing the bond between James and Bob.
Though he continues to call Bob a stray, the link between the two only becomes stronger, especially when Bob follows James onto the bus to London and helps him earn more money busking than he ever made before. Bob teaches James responsibility and gives him something to care about other than his habit. But life is never that simple and James finds himself hurdling obstacles thrown in his path, clinging to sobriety with Bob as his constant reminder of what a good life can be like.
One might think that a film about a man who credits his new life to a street cat he took in to be a little above and beyond. I would disagree. Whenever I was at my lowest, it was always a cat that lifted my spirits, knowing just what to do to keep me going. Whenever I felt like I was lost or out of control, I would look at my kitty companion and realize I had a responsibility towards this animal. It could only go so far to take care of itself and it had come to rely on me for care and also companionship. I couldn’t walk away from that responsibility. Now look at James’ life – he wanted to turn it around, but he kept giving into addiction rather than dealing with his emotions and what made him want to use. While he is using, everyone shuns him, especially people he loves.
In walks this unpresuming cat that decides James is not some kind of pariah. When James allows him to eat his food and even gives him milk instead of shooing him away, Bob decides this human is okay in his book. He attaches himself to him. Over the years, I have also noticed that cats also have a sixth sense about illness in humans. He may have sensed that there was something not quite right with James and wanted to repay the favor of offering him food and shelter, especially after he gets hurt and James spends his only food money on medicine for him.
The responsibility of caring for Bob gives James something to focus on…something important to keep him on the straight and narrow, because if he’s high, he can’t properly care for his new friend. Plus, with Bob being the source of the increase in his busking income, James begins to look at the cat as something more than just another stray. The cat was helping him make his way in life in more ways than one. There was less stress and, when he couldn’t busk, James found a job to make certain that he could feed Bob. His bond with this cat did even more for James – it showed him how to love, how to trust and be trusted, how to grow emotional bonds with others and more.
Now I hear you saying this is a sappy movie. Hey, if you love animals and appreciate what they can do for you, you’ll get it. You will also appreciate the acting by Luke Treadway, who does a tremendous job. Kudos go out to Ruta Gedmintas for her gut-wrenching scene in which she discussed her brother and his addiction and how she couldn’t be around this sort of thing, despite the fact that she was falling in love with James. Anthony Head did an excellent job as the distraught father who has troubles expressing emotions. And really huge kudos go out to Bob. The movie folks tried to get a cat that looked and acted like Bob, but in the end, Bob actually played himself in the film and did an absolute job in doing so.
I also want to call out the cinematographers who gave us the opportunity to see the world through Bob’s eyes – clever bit of genius there, letting us get a taste of what it is like to be so small in such a big world. And – I already said this in my soundtrack review, I loved the songs in the film, which are best described as upbeat and uplifting acoustic folk songs.
The entire film is a rollercoaster of emotions, a mix of ups and downs and funny moments and the best part about it is that it’s based on real events. In fact, if you pay close attention to the end of the film and the book signing, you will see the real James Bowen make an appearance in a rather clever manner. A Street Cat Named Bob is a great film for anyone looking for an upbeat, feel good, dramatic film. Especially for those who can understand just how much influence a pet has on our lives, our moods and our actions.