Since the publication of their bestselling memoir, Bob the ginger street cat and his musician friend James have really gone up in the world. Literary London, with its swanky parties and generous purse, has welcomed the pair with open arms. But for James (Luke Treadaway), the ghosts of his past are never too far from his mind and this Christmas season he is reliving a painful chapter which nearly divided him from his feline sidekick forever.
His flashback is prompted by a (slightly contrived) encounter with a young busker and an unwelcome face from James’ own days of singing for his supper. James persuades the initially mistrustful boy to listen to his story in the hope that it might help him to change his life too. The tale he tells is of his last challenging Christmas as a busker. A time when money was incredibly tight and his ability to care for Bob thrown into question. We, of course, know that a happy ending awaits.
James’ journey to a better life has once again attracted kindred spirits. His bond with local shop owner Moody (Phaldut Sharma) – a bereaved parent and guardian angel of sorts – is the touching highlight of an oddly emotionless film. James’ vegan neighbour and love interest Betty has been replaced by support worker Bea (Kristina Tonteri-Young), the baffling narrative demands her to walk an uncomfortable line between flirty friendship and professional concern in her role. Neither is entirely successful.
Animal welfare officers Leon (Tim Plester) and Ruth (Pepter Lunkuse) are the ‘baddies’ of the piece, providing low stakes dramatic tension when they implausibly ponder whether to remove Bob from James, in reality giving the community an excuse to show James exactly how much his life matters. Charles Martin Smith is no Frank Capra, and there’s little wonder here, but his straightforward lensing and Garry Jenkins’ predictable but serviceable script get the job done.
As to where the film sits in the timeline of the Bob-iverse; this is not so much a sequel as another, earlier chapter. A little slice of festive feel-good entertainment with an obvious but important moral. Our lives touch the lives of those they intersect with. We change people in a thousand tiny ways, good and bad, simply by entering their orbit. There’s no harm in remembering that. Even if the grumpy git inside would rather just rewatch James Stewart…
The furry tale does meander a little self-indulgently towards its inevitable uplifting conclusion, missing the opportunity to explore the bigger picture of the lack of infrastructure for homeless and vulnerable adults in favour of focusing on the milder misfortunes of James. Making the robbery of a valuable community outreach programme a backdrop for James to further explore his woes is a particularly odd choice, as is telling rather than showing the changing fortunes of the young man James inspires.
On a positive note, despite its flaws, A Christmas Gift from Bob does offer a (mild, child-friendly) insight into poverty and insecure living; using easy to understand examples of the ceaseless juggle to make ends meet and the domino fall that can so easily occur when one extra cost arises. It does shy away from any clear discussion of mental health issues, which is a pity, but the burden of worry is made clear.
The film also earns praise (and stars) for championing The Big Issue. It would be lovely to think that through sitting down to see what mischief Bob gets up to next, young viewers might also gain empathy for and understanding of what motivates the sellers they will pass on their local High Street when the world opens again. Perhaps they will even consider how these men and women will manage over the weeks to come when they cannot go out to sell at all.
A Christmas Gift from Bob is in cinemas and available to rent now