Back in 2012, a London musician and former heroin addict named James Bowen published a touching memoir about his struggles with homelessness and how an orange stray cat, who he christened “Bob,” entered his life and helped keep him on the road to sobriety. That book went on to become an international bestseller, spawning follow-up books and children’s stories, and now, the tale of James and Bob is making it to the big screen.
Luke Treadaway stars as the down-on-his-luck James, who spends his day busking with his guitar and his nights sleeping on the streets, occasionally checking in with his addiction counselor Val (Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt) as he starts a methadone program. It isn’t until Val helps him land an apartment that he meets two individuals who help show him that life is worth living: his straight-edge hippie neighbor Betty (Ruta Gedmintas) and the ginger cat who breaks into his apartment one night. While James is initially reluctant to welcome a cat into his new home, especially when he can barely afford to feed or care for himself, his injured but purring companion quickly wins him over. Before long, James and Bob are inseparable, as the tawny feline travels across London draped around James’ shoulders like a scarf, and not only does Bob make for a charming sidekick as James tries to earn money busking, but he helps his owner through methadone withdrawals.
James’ tentative romance with Betty and his attempts to reconcile with his distant father are predictable, sentimental, and forgettable, but it’s the relationship between man and cat that elevates this otherwise standard redemption story. This is a movie made for people who love and have lived with cats, capturing everything from the futility of trying to get them to swallow a pill to the way they have an innate and explicable understanding of when a human needs them most. Director Roger Spottiswoode (of Turner & Hooch and Tomorrow Never Dies) frequently films from Bob’s point of view, and although James’ companion is played by a variety of orange felines, the real Bob does star as himself in many scenes. Treadaway may be sympathetic and charming as the struggling musician, but this is Bob’s show, all the way. B-