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Finding hope on the streets

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A Street Cat Named Bob: based on the true story of how James Bowen, a busker and recovering drug addict, had his life transformed when he met a stray cat

A Street Cat Named Bob (12A)
Running time 1hr 43mins
Rating: ***

WITH Yuletide just around the corner, a film like A Street Cat Named Bob seemed decidedly overdue – or did it? For all its frothy sentimentality, this isn’t a conventional feelgood movie; while the distinct lack of cynicism will put many off, there’s enough heart and humour here to justify a look, and it raises some important, understated issues.

From the outset – a grim depiction of the lows of homelessness – it’s not exactly clear who this piece is intended for. Our hero, James (Luke Treadaway), is a recovering addict, eking out a living as a busker on the streets of London; early ‘escapades’ include a near-death experience in the front seat of an abandoned car. His fortunes are changed
dramatically with the appearance of a ginger tom, Bob, at his ramshackle flat. It is around the cat that the
ensuing 90 minutes comes to revolve, doubling as he does as a crowd-pleasing travel companion, a link to the eccentric girl next door (Ruta Gedmintas), and, for drug-addled James, a potential lifeline.

This is a most awkward family blockbuster, a Christmas film about the perils of heroin dependency, a cutesy animal movie you wouldn’t necessarily want to share with tots. Close-up shots of Bob’s pity-eyes are spliced generously with hard-hitting glimpses at life on the breadline; even the hippie-go-lucky love interest has a dark past. In terms of execution, Street Cat is somewhere between a cheering TV movie, a blunt documentary and a Ken Loach-esque kitchen sink drama; something this unconventional (adapted from an inspirational true-life story) was always going to be a hard sell.

But, despite all this, it works well enough. It’s a straightforward, predictable, rather naïve affair driven, above all, by a set of very likeable performances. Treadaway remains sympathetic despite the film’s routine descents into cheesiness, Joanne Froggatt charms as a committed support worker, and it’s hard to come away not delighted by Bob. Problems abound elsewhere. This is filmmaking on a cookie-cutter budget and it shows – there’s a cheapness hanging over proceedings that no amount of warmth and feline energy will ever put to rest (James’ dealings with Ruth Sheen’s adoring onlooker are particularly contrived). The romantic subplot has a half-baked quality to it, and the movie never fully reconciles its designs upon a human interest story with the central presence of a furry, comic mascot. It would likely feel more at home on the small screen, something to watch towards the end of Christmas Day over cold turkey and leftover spuds.

But such scepticism is probably beside the point, given this has tapped a very agreeable, seasonal vein – this critic is sure it will find an audience. In a year dominated, as ever, by big cinematic thrills and ‘epic’ superhero fare, it’s great to see a small, street-level story finding its time onscreen (and this tale is the definition of street-level, what with the main
character eventually taking up a post as a Big Issue seller).

A good, honest film about good, honest people.

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