Review: A Street Cat Named Bob

A Street Cat Named Bob is a 2016 feature film based on the bestselling book by James Bowen. While it's well produced, it plays a bit like a made for TV Lifetime movie. The film is based on the true story of Bowen's climb out of the gutter with the help of a ginger tom cat called Bob. While the no holds barred true version straight from Bowen's pen is presented in his bestselling book of the same name, the film version is somewhat whitewashed. As far as I can tell, this was done for the sake of easier storytelling and to broaden the appeal of the feature.

The story revolves around Bowen, played by Luke Treadaway, and his fight with heroin addiction and homelessness on the streets of London. After years of struggling alone, the presence of a generous social worker, here played by Downton Abbey's Joanne Froggatt, and the titular cat help him to realize that he has more to live for than his next fix. The film is harmless enough but it never really opens up any of the characters beyond what's needed by the very basic plot.

All of the performances are sound, not the least of which is Bob's. He's given star billing and we're expected to believe that the real Bob is the only cat we see in the movie. He isn't. The crew used a cadre of lookalike stunt-cats alongside the real feline star in order to get all the shots they needed.

Make no mistake - this film, though it is based on Bowen's true story, includes a lot of fabricated elements to try and force it to conform to the warm-hearted, rags-to-riches plot it so desperately wants to embody. In that regard, the film is entirely predictable.

I thoroughly enjoyed Bowen's very honest account in his 2012 book. I enjoyed the film less, and only partially because of the watered-down tone. Any time a cat is used on set, I cringe a little. I've worked on film sets myself so I know how impatient people can be when time is running short. It's no place for an animal, least of all a cat. 

Worse yet is the film's portrayal of James feeding Bob nothing but human food from the corner store. He's shown giving Bob milk, tuna, and other canned fish products along with what looks like a little bit of dry kibble. While most cats will gladly eat canned tuna, it lacks many of the nutrients they require, especially taurine. If James was still feeding Bob this inadequate diet, I've no doubt that Bob would not have survived. The fact that this is never mentioned in the film shows just how cat-unfriendly the production really is.

While I have no doubt that James Bowen loves Bob and cares for him as well as he can, the fact remains that Bowen, his publishers and the producers of the film are all exploiting Bob's popularity for money. There are now several Bob books, including a children's book (which begins with Bob's elderly caregiver dying - another convenient omission from the film), a Christmas book, and a sequel to the original bestseller. If this adds to people's love of cats, I'm all for it, but I know that Bob really only cares about being safe and warm and fed with his human. Fortunately, books don't require Bob's presence, but this film did.

The Real Bowen and Bob

The Real Bowen and Bob

Rather than a rags-to-riches story, I'd have preferred the filmmakers focus on Bowen's awakening to the fact that Bob is a sentient being who isn't that different from all us other mammals. That's the part of the story that's present in the book but is missing from the film.

A Street Cat Named Bob is a harmless enough entertainment, albeit a shallow one. It's just too bad that's all it is.