Homeward Bound, Beethoven, Lassie, Old Yeller, Alaska, Air Bud, Free Willy, Wishbone, MVP: Most Valuable Primate, Dunston Checks In…these are among the many films and shows we can point out when it comes to Animals being lead or supporting actors in films. Whether they are remembered fondly, or renowned for derailing acting careers and making parents question the night they had too much to drink – I don’t recall very many of these sorts of films being aimed at adults…Until I saw this…and Jaws…forgot about Jaws…whoops.
Set in London in the late 2000s, our story revolves around James Bowen (played by SKY Atlantic’s ‘Solitude’ actor Luke Treadaway, the twin brother of Harry Treadaway, who played Dr Frankenstein in Penny Dreadful), a Homeless Busker and recovering heroin addict who was rejected by his family and had trouble making enough money to feed himself. After Overdosing in a car with a fellow addict, he wakes up in Hospital, where he is given 1 last chance from his support worker, Val (Joanne Frogatt), to turn his life around. He is given his own flat – and in return, he has to attend meetings with Val and take Methadone frequently. One night in his flat – he hears what sounds like a burglar in his kitchen. He enters, and it is here he meets a ginger cat eating corn flakes. After trying to find the cat’s owner the next day, and then finding the cat later with a leg injury, it became clear that the two lives would be very, very important to each other.
Now to go down the usual street of these reviews, and with the exception of Bob’s wound, there are little or no special effects or CGI in this film. It’s just a straightforward film design:
The acting is very good. It’s not the usual oscar bait that is possibly suggested by some on the surface, but it does more than enough to tell a story without looking like they’re trying too hard to impress us. It features some excellent “animal direction”, and probably providing a clear indication that Bob is in fact “Smarter than your average Cat, Boo Boo”. In general, it was well done.
The characters, though tight-knit, were well put together but not overly detailed. By far the most likeable character is Bob (for good reason, he’s adorable), and seeing James Bowen’s transformation and struggle to stay clean and feed both himself and Bob is clear throughout the narrative. As for the villains…there aren’t any. Yes, plenty of people are rude to James (and it is London – not exactly the rest of England), but sometimes it is expected – Although, the scene in the Indian Takeaway…I don’t know why the cashier/chef didn’t ask for the £3 from James before he made the meal for him (then throwing the meal in the dirty sink and telling James to get lost because he was 9p short and trying to busk for it inside the takeaway itself). Maybe the business is struggling? Maybe this was 1 reason for it? I know it was designed to show how much people shunned James, but that in itself was…not a good business decision for a takeaway…Unless it’s common in some parts were there is a communal trust. James’ Father, though cold towards his son, does want the best for him…But he feels that James is too far out of reach, and that he needs to get on with his life, keep James’ Step-mother happy, and give his daughters a decent childhood without a druggy near them. I mentioned there aren’t any villains…but that’s because the villains aren’t really people. Yes, there are some scumbags here and there…but “hurt people hurt people” as they say. Poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, rejection, a lack of compassion, “the rules”…these are the real villains of the film.
The music is a combination of film score and Luke Treadaway actually busking (The fact that he can play guitar and sing is 1 of the main reasons he got the role) – the songs themselves are very good, and though they might not cater to everybody’s tastes, I do think there is an appeal to having a cat present at a live performance.
Even though the end result of the story is very apparent – the Story is not a child-friendly journey, as it tackles a lot of issues that would be touched upon in Primary School, but not fully realised, unless you experience these things in your own home. At the same time, it sends out various messages. “Don’t do drugs” is a main 1, because as the real James Bowen remarked “Having Bob is like raising a baby, so I had to sort myself out”, having a cat might help turn one’s life around, but it doesn’t make the journey easier. Then we have the theme of homelessness and its horrors. The rejection, name-calling and labelling from others are far from the nicest things to happen to anybody. It either shows us that people can change or show us a reflection of ourselves, whether it be in James or those who don’t want him or those who want him to fall, fail or suffer. At the same time, there is a wonderful light-heartedness in the mix of the horror and grit, because while the scenes were James and Bob are happy together only make up a small (but important) amount of the film, they made the darker times a lot more bearable. Is there any humour in this film? Yes – but it’s more associated with cat humour than people humour – if you love cats, and see elements of your own cat in Bob, you’ll get a wee laugh out of it.
The cinematography is very good, and even provides us with Bob’s point of view from time to time. Though Bob himself appears in the film frequently, he did have some extras (5-6 other red tabby cats) helping out, and the choice of cinematography helped cover any differences up.
Would I recommend A Street Cat Named Bob? Yes…but maybe not so much for kids on Christmas day (Yes, there are Christmas scenes in this film), unless you see something there that might scare them into taking a better path. But at the same time, to encourage compassion when there isn’t any. James Bowen and his cat Bob now have their legacy in Pop Culture, which helped get them both out of their worst case scenario and brought them to a place were they could help others, and to say the least, the product itself is pretty good.
Characters ***3/4 (*****) for Bob)