This is the season when realism gets thrown out the window in favor of extended metaphor. In the case of Rob Reiner’s The Bucket List, that metaphor is about living life to the fullest, no matter what’s coming down the pike.
Like a recent rash of films, The Bucket List is more fairy tale than anything else. In it, two old guys, Edward Cole, a billionaire hospital developer (Jack Nicholson) and Carter Chambers, a mechanic (Morgan Freeman) are thrown together in the cancer ward of one of Cole’s hospitals. That these two are in the same room should be a clue that we’re leaving the realm of reality and when they become fast friends, confiding in each other of the woes of their lives, we are firmly in the land of fantasy. But so what? Where is it written that a film about cancer patients has to spend the bulk of its time showing how hard chemotherapy is? Where does it say a movie about a serious subject can’t be humorous and light-hearted and still impart a message? Sure, that might sound more like a made-for-TV style film but the star power here elevates this from mere after school special to full-fledged feature film.
The Bucket List of the title, for anyone who hasn’t seen the trailer, is a list of things to accomplish before you die. When Carter decides to write his list, he has been given less than a year to live. He decides his missing accomplishments are all of a lofty nature, all things you think should be on a list like this. The kinds of things that money can’t buy. It’s up to Cole to show him it can be the little things which provide adventure that make life meaningful. So Cole takes the list and adds a few things, the kinds of things money (specifically his money) canbuy. And the two set out to cross as many things off the list as possible.
Naturally, there are complications. Carter’s wife doesn’t want him to go, but also doesn’t understand his need to be selfish in the last few months he has left. Cole’s lifestyle has left him empty and alone (save for a close friendship with his personal assistant Thomas, played by Sean Hayes, who really needs to start winning more awards). Naturally, they are both going to come to conclusions about life and their place in it and that journey is half the fun. In between list items, the unlikely duo travel across the globe and get to know each other better, sometime argue, and generally come to grips with the fact they are both going to die.
The Bucket List also marks a nice return by director Rob Reiner, who has been overextending his reach and drifting from his comfort zone with many of his recent efforts. In this film, while at times erring on the side of sappiness, he does manage to capture the gallows humor which can be found among the terminally ill and is able to illicit laughs and tears in the same scene. It’s a good thing Reiner is getting back to form since the script by Justin Zackham is merely serviceable, relying on the performances by the three leads to ensure a quality production.
When it’s over, when everyone who is supposed to be dead, is, we are left with a nice message – that it doesn’t matter when you die, as long as you live, that’s the important thing. And as long as you let it, The Bucket List will take you for a positive ride.
(originally published at FirstShowing.net)