Back in 2012 the publishing world and readers all round the globe were captivated by a ginger tom called Bob, the stray who became the constant companion of homeless busker James Bowen. The story of their relationship and how Bob was the inspiration for James to change his life became the subject of a series of books, bestsellers that charmed their ways into hearts of millions. That a film would follow was inevitable – starring Bob himself – and it happened in 2016. Now its sequel arrives laden with festive feels. And, given the current situation, we might need as many of them as we can get ….
At the start of A Christmas Gift From Bob, the first book in the series is a great success and James (Luke Treadaway) is the toast of the publishing world. A sequel is already being talked about, but he’s all at sea when it comes to a story – until a chance encounter with a young homeless man prompts the memory of one eventful festive season, one that taught him the true meaning of Christmas. A time when he came close to going backwards in life and losing Bob.
And if that sounds like familiar territory, then it is. There’s very little new in the story or the way it’s told by director Charles Martin Smith (perhaps more familiar as accountant-come-lawman Oscar in Brian de Palma’s The Untouchables). It comes across as a feline version of A Christmas Carol: there’s no ghosts, but each of the people surrounding James and Bob comes with a story of their own, complete with a lesson for James to learn. A positive one, needless to say. In truth, Bob himself doesn’t play an especially active role in the stories, rather acting as a catalyst for them and for the main thrust of the narrative, such as it is. Inevitably, there’s the proverbial Christmas angel added for good measure: she takes some time to show her true colours – even though we’ve spotted how she fits in well before she does.
The original A Streetcat Named Bob trod a fine line between mawkishness and pure sentiment and just about managed to stay on the right side. James’s struggles with his drug addiction and homelessness gave it a sprinkling of grit, but this time he’s moved on, has a home and, even though life is still tough, he’s heading in the right direction. So there’s no emotional balancing act and what we get is shameless Christmas corn. As a piece of wholesome entertainment, it’s as pure as they come and, although the lockdown in England means that families won’t be heading to the cinema to see this, it’ll easily persuade them to gather round their screens for an hour and a half of seasonal escapism.
As a film it doesn’t have that much to recommend it: too many caricatures, not enough characters, some iffy acting in the smaller roles and a predictable narrative. Any attempts to say something of significance – how Christmas isn’t necessarily everybody’s favourite time of year, for instance – are disappointingly superficial. But the timing of its release could give it extra poignancy. At a time when we simply don’t know what Christmas 2020 will hold, it makes us long more than ever for the kind of festive season we all dream about – a proper one, with all the trimmings – and hold on to the hope that we could still get one after all.
Drama, Family | Cert: 12A | Lionsgate | In cinemas and on digital, 6 November 2020| Dir. Charles Martin Smith | Luke Treadaway, Bob the cat, Kristina Tonteri-Young, Nina Wadia, Phaldut Sharma.