Based on a true story about a young man’s path away from addiction, this is a sweet if formulaic film – and Luke Treadaway offers an engaging, measured and thoughtful performance as James, owner of the titular feline, in a role that was probably trickier than it looks.
I do wonder what acting with a cat would be like – is it akin to working with a green screen where you give your all, opposite an emotional vacuum? I’ve had loads of cats and though I loved them dearly, and they helped me out of many an emotional sinkhole, I didn’t exactly get much back that I wasn’t already projecting onto their purring, fluffy tummies.
Bob, the ginger star of this film, does not, I should warn you, look very “street”. On the contrary, he’s rather chubby and fluffy. I suspect he’s just pretending to be street while actually being incredibly posh, like 1990s-era Damon Albarn.
Relationships between cats and their human owners are usually Stockholm Syndrome with added purring.
As any cat owner knows the worse they make us feel, the more we are determined to make them like us – giving them little balls with bells inside, or a wind-up mouse, the best food and of course the most comfortable spot on our bed. In return they throw us the odd titbit: a wind around the ankles here, a furry face rub there. Followed up, lest we become complacent that we might be in an equal relationship, by a pile of cat sick with half a dead mouse in it, and ruined stockings where they’ve done the nail stretching thing when settling down to sleep on our laps.
Not Very Street Cat Bob is just like this, definitely the dominant partner in the relationship between himself and his – hahahahaha – owner, James. Still, he is mostly responsible for James’s fight back from rock bottom to normality, so we can probably forgive him the usual cat haughtiness and “what are you humans doing on my planet” shade-throwing.
James Bowen (Treadaway) is on the streets. A methadone and occasional heroin user, he busks around Covent Garden, singing his own compositions rather tunelessly, and living hand to mouth. He earns a few pounds a day and is constantly being moved on from any place he has found to sleep.
He still has some faith in human nature but society likes to show him that this is misplaced. In a takeaway after a long day outside with no food, he orders a meal that comes to £3 but he only has £2.91. The server won’t let him off the 9p and then as James walk away the server simply throws the food in a sink full of water.
James has been estranged from his family for years; his parents split when he was a child and he left for Australia with his mother. His understandable inability at that age to deal with the emotional fallout have set him on a destructive path, with the adults in his life unable or unwilling to help him.
Initially the only person in his corner is Val, his addiction case worker (Joanne Froggatt, tough but helpful). She’s seen and heard every addict’s excuse but she wants James to have one last chance, so gets him bumped up the housing list and into a small, scruffy flat of his own.
Once ensconced in his flat, James is visited by a fluffy ginger tom, played by Jonesey from Alien (he isn’t really). James tries to find its owner, but its soon clear that Bob – as his new neighbour Betty (a bouncy if rather stereotyped Ruta Gedmintas) names the cat – has chosen James and isn’t going anywhere.
Bob is cute and cuddly but don’t be fooled. He spends most of the movie throwing shade on pretty much everyone, rarely deigning to move from his position across James’s shoulders, or in the best seat on the bus, or wrapped in a blanket in a bicycle basket, unless something really exciting happens at which point he becomes incredibly animated and you know something disastrous is about to occur.
But the course of Britflicks never did run smooth so there are numerous ups and downs as James carefully tries to navigate his route back to the “other side” (normality), usually helped but sometimes hindered by the giant orange furball.
The London settings look realistic and there are some good background touches; as James walks towards his new flat the graffiti writ large on the wall behind him says, rather Britishly, “SORRY ABOUT YOUR WALL”.
But also in the background are the drug pushers, waiting on corners and looking straight at James whenever he peeps out of the window in his flat. The fear that he will go back to hard drugs is ever present even though this is a Britflick comedy and has to end – after various cameos from BBC luvvies – reasonably happily.
The film also stars Anthony Head as James’s father, remarried and living in a lovely house with his “new family”. (I know to Americans when you see Anthony Head you think Giles from Buffy, but over here we’re all about the 1980s Gold Blend commercials where he flirted outrageously with his gorgeous neighbour while they lent each other jars of instant coffee which they always inexplicably seemed to run out of, usually just in the middle of a dinner party. The whole country came to a standstill when the next instalment was due).
Bob is the real star, holding the audience with his stillness in every scene like an old school Oscar winner.
Many scenes are shot as if from Bob’s point of view, which can make one rather dizzy though it also shows that he is an equal partner in this tale of redemption.
This is a warm and diverting watch, the epitome of feel-good filmmaking. And considering the increasing unpleasant obstacles put in the way of people already at rock bottom in this country, it is genuinely heart warming to see a true-life story where someone has successfully turned their life around.
Watch the trailer for A Streetcat Named Bob: