A critic should know his prejudices up front, and sometimes an audience should know them, too. Let me start by saying that my wife and I have four cats, and a ginger male is my favorite among them. (I hope the others don’t see this.)
So I was already halfway to cheering when I started “A Street Cat Named Bob,” the adaptation of the popular autobiography by James Bowen. He’s the busker and former addict who weaned himself off heroin by taking methadone, then weaned himself off that with the help of an orange-and-white cat who adopted him and gave him a reason to sort out his unhealthy life.
The film, written by Tim John and Maria Nation from the book by Bowen and Garry Jenkins, Hollywoodizes the story. We now begin with Bowen (Luke Treadaway) nearly starving and freezing in the streets of London, before case worker Val (Joanne Froggatt) finds him subsidized housing. (“Ah, hot water,” he sighs.)
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For contrast, he now has a junkie friend (Darren Evans) who shows us Bowen’s future, should he fail to clean up. A free-spirited, slightly daffy neighbor (Ruta Gedmintas) has been added to give a hint of a love interest. And Bowen’s absent father (Anthony Head) comes into the story, both to show us why Bowen’s on the streets and to suggest a chance of reconciliation.
All that aside, the movie has three important virtues. Treadaway gives a restrained performance that never begs for pity but earns plenty; he shows the day-to-day difficulty of living without simple necessities while retaining hope and dignity.
Second, the movie reminds us of something precious: We often learn to care for ourselves while caring for others. The other could be a wife, a child, a parent, even a feline. As Bowen withdraws from methadone, kicking and writhing and vomiting up the little food he can swallow, Bob’s presence – not to mention the responsibility of feeding the cat – keeps him going.
Third, Bob gets my vote as the most appealing newcomer of the year. (He plays himself.) He rides on Treadaway’s shoulders, in the basket of a fast-moving bicycle, on top of a double-decker bus, inside Bowen’s overcoat – and with aplomb. Neither barking dogs nor barking-mad strangers trouble him much.
Director Roger Spottiswoode (“Tomorrow Never Dies”) alternates between Bowen’s point of view and Bob’s, showing us they’re equally complex characters. Bob inevitably comes across as keen, intelligent, unflappable and responsive to the vibrations coming from his owner and passers-by. If humans were this attuned to each other, the divorce rate would plummet.
‘A Street Cat Named Bob’
☆ ☆ ☆
Cast: Luke Treadaway, Bob, Ruta Gedmintas, Joanne Froggatt.
Director: Roger Spottiswoode.
Length: 103 minutes.
Rating: Unrated (language).