"The Bucket List" is the kind of movie that wraps around you like a cozy, comforting blanket. There is no MTV-style cutting, no aesthetic haughtiness, no complex plot tricks; instead, the film tells a simple, nicely-developed story, does it well, and has the fortune of putting to fantastic use two great veteran Hollywood actors. For a film that is about no less than the knowledge of one's own dwindling mortality, the desire for human connection, the need for knowing that one's life has not been wasted or lived in vain, and, ultimately, death, this is a life-affirming tale, poignantly handled, and one that may actually inspire the viewer to question whether his or her own life is being lived to its fullest.
Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) and Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) meet while sharing a hospital room. Edward, a wealthy corporate owner with a loyal doctor (Rob Morrow) and assistant (Sean Hayes) who answer to his every whim, and Carter, a married blue-collar mechanic with, suffice it to say, a negligent doctor and no assistant, would appear at first glance to have nothing in common. The more time they spend together talking, playing cards and experiencing the painful parallel side effects of their cancer treatments, however, the thicker their bond gets.
When both receive the grave prognosis of only having another six months to a year, Edward convinces Carter that he should stop living for other people and finally do the things he has always wanted to do. These things, compiled in what Carter calls a "bucket list," are the catalyst for Edward and Carter to set out and try to accomplish as many of them as possible. Skydiving, race car driving, traveling everywhere from Egypt to the Himalayasthese two unlikely friends are determined to live it up with the short time they have left. In the progress, they are led to reassess the mistakes they have made and the things that are truly important to them.
For director Rob Reiner, "The Bucket List" signals a return to form after a dry spell that included 2003's forgettable "Alex and Emma
" and 2005's troubled "Rumor Has It...
" The film is not an unsentimental one, and with the wrong touch, could have become overly sticky-sweet. It approaches this on multiple occasions, as in some of Edward's and Carter's more extreme wish-list crossing-outs like the skydiving episode, and also in a strained late scene involving Edward and his estranged daughter and granddaughter. The plot can be easily telegraphed in advance, no thanks, in part, to a theatrical trailer that goes so far as to give most of the ending away, but also because we've seen this sort of story before. One additionally has to question the feasibility of two sick older men jet-setting from one country to the next and not appearing to ever grow tired. As someone who is only twenty-six, I have been on overnight trips to neighboring states that wore me out more than these guys appear to get.
And yet, "The Bucket List" works. The strength of Justin Zackham's screenplay and Rob Reiner's treatment of it is in its universality. The themes of the film have the ability to speak to any viewer who has ever lost a loved one, been in a life-or-death situation themselves, or merely grappled with their own existence and the personal goals set in front of them. Jack Nicholson (2006's "The Departed
"), in the similar low-key mode that benefited him well in 2002's "About Schmidt
," is exemplary as Edward Cole, a multi-divorced singleton at heart forced to ponder if his greatest mistake was in his inability to love and let people who cared about him into his life. As Carter Chambers, Morgan Freeman (2007's "Gone Baby Gone
") is just as brilliant in the part of a man who has worked nonstop for forty-five years in order to provide for his wife and children, and only in his final hours, so to speak, realizes that he has never taken the time to live for himself. Together, Nicholson and Freeman are a dynamite onscreen team, the power of their characters' friendship lending appropriate weight and gravitas
to the proceedings. In his first film role since bidding farewell to his eight-year run on the sitcom "Will and Grace," Sean Hayes (2004's "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!
") turns in welcome supporting work as Edward's assistant, Thomas, understated in a way that his Jack McFarland rarely ever was.
There will be a specific segment of the viewing populationnamely, moviegoers over about forty or sowho will be targeted as the central demographic for "The Bucket List." With Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in the leads, this is a given. Nevertheless, the film can be enjoyed by just about anyone in their teens and upwards. Director Rob Reiner has tackled serious subjects here, but the experience of watching it is neither morose nor depressing. Just as much as the picture is about death, it is also about the beauty of living, and a nice helping of natural humor grows from the situations and adventures Edward and Carter embark upon. "The Bucket List" concludes on a note that is dramatically effective and bittersweet, but also rather uplifting. Credit Reiner for achieving this without needing to strive for obvious manipulation or pandering melodrama. He knows that the characters have earned these culminating emotions on their own, and so do we.