A Street Cat Named Bob (2016)

A Street Cat Named Bob, 2016, UK, 103 mins. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode.

A Street Cat Named Bob

My Korean friend suggested we see this:
British friend + British movie = yes!
She also really likes cats, so everybody wins. I knew little going in, other than it sounded like a good comfy tonic to the unhealthy string of murder movies I’d been subjecting myself to at home.

Korean cinemas feel like the Wittertainment Code of Conduct has been enforced by law – during trailers you can visibly see the rows in front of you take their phones out and turn them off completely. While they do still sell the noisier snacks (nachos, for the love of God) attendees go to great lengths to inconvenience their fellow cinemagoers as little as possible. Even if it means smacking their noisy child until the crying stops.

Western films are received very soon after their domestic releases, with original dialogue retained and accompanied by Korean subtitles. My Korean is awful, but I do still read enough to be disappointed that the myriad nuances of ‘mate’ are lost with 친구 (chingu – ‘friend’, but generally someone of the same age). Deservedly, they don’t even try with ‘brass monkeys’, just 추워 (chuweo – cold weather), and the sooner we stamp it out of even ironic usage the better.

Luke Treadaway has a great surname, and plays James Bowen, whose real-life story the film is based around. He’s world’s most handsome recovering heroin addict. Even the grease collecting in his hair does little more than hold the windswept look in place. He lands on feet when our glorious socialist achievement of a healthcare system puts him on a methadone-based rehab programme and in council housing. He gets by with the help of his neighbour Betty (Ruta Gedmintas) and the pennies thrown at him while busking. Most instrumental, though, is Bob, a stray cat that wanders into his life and… well, just exists around him, as cats do. Bob immediately improves his outlook and earnings, being a hit with the busking punters. And now, an essay on cats:

CATS –  WHAT’RE THEY ALL ABOUT THEN, EH? by Rathe Temple-Green
I used to hear people ask ‘are you a cat person or a dog person’ a lot. While I don’t think the question is that binary (you can love or hate both; these aren’t belligerents in a conflict), it is onto something. I have come to see cats as emotional Rorschach tests; you see in them whatever your brain is predisposed to.
Without wanting to get into any physiognomic nonsense, the construction of a dog’s features are sort of absurd, all long noses and floppy ears and panting with excitement; clearly descended from more intimidating creatures but often coming across as cute and funny. Cats, however, feel more utilitarian in their design. Sleeker. Sharper. More aerodynamic. Less filler. Pets by Apple. The people who find stronger companionship in dogs than cats are probably pragmatists, thinkers, surgeons or something.
I’m not saying you can’t find a cat cute, I just think that it requires you, the human, to bring certain things to the mental table before you can, whereas dogs are more effortlessly likeable. Whether or not that means you find the companionship of one animal to be more shallow in comparison to the other is entirely up to the individual, but then I’d have to wonder what kind of nut would seriously dwell on such a thing.

I liked Bob, it was a Perfectly Decent Film and recalibrated me for another few weeks of watching people stab each other to death with rusty spoons or whatever. The songs were pleasant. The more unsuccessful comedy moments neither grated nor outstayed their welcome; the unspoken but invaluable secondary skill of comedy. As I’m getting older (and thinner, lonelier, weaker, as well as increasingly pompous, neurotic, insecure, narcissistic, socially oblivious, sexually undesirable, and forgetful, but that’s beside the point) I find myself more susceptible to obvious appeals to sentimentality in movies. I find it hard not to tear up at the sad parts, but Bob doesn’t milk it (pun fully intended, what are you going to do). The hundred or so minutes you spend in its world is endearing and enjoyable.

Bob is a family-friendly watch, which makes the sequence in which James goes cold turkey from the methadone all the more harrowing. The colour and lighting takes an extremely dingy cyan turn, the house suddenly feels like the bathroom from Saw, and there’s an awful lot of screaming, crying and jittery camerawork for that authentic dead-baby-climbing-the-ceiling feel. For a film about how Bob pulled James through his addiction, though, they jump-cut between James’ ordeal and Bob just surveying his physical suffering at a distance from a countertop. It’s probably just an unfortunate bit of Kuleshov effect, but I swear there’s an evil glint in the little sod’s eye, too. Like he enjoys it. Proper horror stuff, this.

Further: Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy) is James’ dad, and now that he’s of a certain age I have to say he plays the part of ‘neglectful but regretful father’ almost depressingly well. Nice to see him in anything, though. Just seems a lovely bloke. Would love to have a pint with. Frothing great pints of tea, though, obviously.


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