“My main man Ray”
With absolutely no interest in seeing The Bucket List, the opportunity presented itself to check it out. I enjoy most Rob Reiner films—I mean come on, he did The Princess Bride and This is Spinal Tap, he gets a reprieve for every other bad movie he makes—and love both Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, so I thought, what the hell? It ends up that the film was actually pretty good. The trailer does not do it very much justice, though. Sure all the sappy sentimentality is there, the plot is transparent throughout, and it tries to tug at your heartstrings, but as a whole it is so much more than that. The evolution of Nicholson’s character is believable and the journey the two take in order to complete their “bucket list” is fun to go along with. What I anticipated being a hokey trip to different landmarks, with no real payoff, surprisingly turned out to be a trek worth taking.
It all begins with the realization that both our leads are terminally ill and soon to share a hospital room. We are treated to a brief glimpse into their lives pre-news to get a grasp on what their characters are like, and this is very welcome, putting us in the mindframe to have preconceived notions of them that will soon evolve. Freeman’s role is very likable and very relatable. He is a family man that gave up on his own dreams in order to make sure his children would be raised with all the support they needed. Never forgetting his love for history, this mechanic is a wealth of knowledge and a “Jeopardy!” wiz. He is an immense contrast to the crass, wealthy, and non-personable hospital owner played by Nicholson. This role is where the laughs come fast as he is sharp-witted and sarcastic to great effect. Conversations between he and Sean Hayes, as his assistant, are never dull.
It would be interesting to know whether the cast and crew actually went to any of the places they visited—Hong Kong, France, Himalayas, etc.—because at times the scenes looked horribly bluescreened, and others looked real. Even when they are skydiving, I wasn’t sure if their faces looked flat due to gravity or because they were mapped onto real divers post-production. I would think the budget would be too high to actual go to all of them besides just taking exposition shots. Either way, you are really on the journey to hear the interactions between the two men, and the environments are secondary. It is the way in which these two disparate souls come together and ultimately save each other’s final moments on Earth from being full of loneliness, regret, and pity.
No one besides the two leads is given that much screentime, but those moments they do receive are always honest. Between Freeman’s wife, played by Beverly Todd, and his son visiting the hospital and really letting him know where they stand on his final days, we are shown how this family has been put together. They are close-knit to the point where their relationships have been out of more duty than love. Sacrifice and routine have taken the place of spontaneity and compassion long ago. Where they all want to be with him at the end, because that is what they should do, he finds that it is a vacation from them for him that is absolutely necessary. Todd is very good with her anger at Nicholson’s character for taking her husband away, and by the end—where she seems to have made amends—it is completely appropriate despite the quick turnaround. This is due to the fact that these men forged a strong bond in the few months they knew each other, as well as the fact that it was a few months, not days. Time travels fast in this film and you need to realize that you don’t get to see every single second.
This is no masterpiece and it will not engage your mind at all, but as far as un-intrusive fluff stories with heart go, you can do a lot worse. The acting is great and there are some really good laughs throughout. It is definitely what you would expect from it while succeeding on all accounts, letting your cynical mind take a backseat to a tale of redemption and friendship that will warm the heart and bring a smile to your face.
The Bucket List 6/10 | ★ ★ ½