A furry feline friend overshadows his human co-star in A Street Cat Named Bob, a film that should serve as catnip to those dying for a feel-good story. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode (whose career hasn't been the same since Tomorrow Never Dies), the film is based on the true story and memoir by James Bowen, a drug-addicted busker who turned his life around with the help of a ginger kitty. His book sold millions, launched a "Bob" franchise, and presumably sold a lot of orange housecats. The movie version probably won't have the same impact, but proves to be light and fluffy as the titular pet.
Like a series of Youtube cat videos, your enjoyment of the film may depend on your love of mischievous felines. Luke Treadway plays James, a homeless Londoner with a heroin addiction, no job, no family to support him; nothing but his guitar which he uses to earn money singing on the streets. With the help of his tough and fair drug support adviser (Joanne Froggatt), he's afforded public housing and a chance at sobriety in a methadone program. On the first night in his new home, Bob wanders in through an open window and changes his life instantly.
Through learning to care for another living creature, James gains the strength to kick his addiction. It also doesn't hurt that Bob is GREAT for business. Turns out people really like taking pictures and videos with cats. Who'da thunk it? There are a few obstacles, of course. The threat of a relapse always looms, especially when an old addict pal starts hanging around. And then there's James' frosty relationship with his father (Anthony Stewart Head aka GILES!!) who seems to want nothing to do with his son. But there are also small triumphs and the tearing down of emotional walls. James becomes close with Betty (Ruta Gedmintas), an attractive neighbor who also happens to be an animal rights activist. That's convenient.
There are other such coincidences that take away any potential grit the film might have had. James never seems to be at fault for anything that goes wrong, whether its getting arrested or losing his job. And I wished they could have shown him actually struggle with his addiction, other than one brief montage where he tries to kick the methadone, Bob watching from afar the whole time. Cutaways to Bob's all-too-cute face never get old, though, and they're made even better when you realize that is the real Bob not some cat stunt double. Spottiswoode has some fun showing us how silly we humans look from his vantage point, which is usually sitting right on James' shoulder. You're not going to find a lot of dramatic tension in A Street Cat Named Bob, but thanks to winning performances by man and feline alike, the film always manages to land on its feet...or paws.
Rating: 3 out of 5