For Maturing Audiences
Two old codgers dying of cancer decide to spend the remaining few months of their lives living life to the fullest. Sounds like a Lifetime Original Movie, which is exactly what “The Bucket List” might have been, even with Rob Reiner at the helm. The reason the film is more than that?
The two old, dying, grumpy men are portrayed by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. These iconic veterans can take a script filled with contrivance and corny philosophizing and give it heft and meaning. Not that the script is devoid of wit or wisdom-in fact it dares to take on what few films do-namely, dying with dignity–and has its co-stars banter about everything from religion to fidelity with a certain grace that would seem mawkish in lesser hands.
Nicholson is Edward, the billionaire who ends up sharing a hospital room-one he owns-with Freeman’s Carter, a career auto mechanic who nonetheless can answer every Jeopardy question correctly. Scenes depicting Edward doubled over with his sutured head buried in a toilet give the film all the post-surgery reality we need.
The aforementioned list requires a variety of thrills, travels and adventures. But with stars this high priced, couldn’t the film have been shot on location? The adventures are the kind we all dream about but don’t dare try because we’ll always have time later, right? Or maybe we just need a best friend with a limitless pocketbook to fund our fun?
Sure, the film requires some mental stretching, but for a commercial big house product whose trailer seems to suggest mostly silly geezers at play there’s a lot are several poignant moments. Both Edward and Carter have familial issues that nag, and the script (by novice screenwriter Justin Zackham) doesn’t demand wit or irony where restraint will suffice.
This is a mild comeback for Rob Reiner, the once can’t-miss director of “Spinal Tap,” “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “A Few Good Men.” His script chooser suffered lapses in judgement that led to “Rumor Has It,” “Alex and Emma,” and “North.” You can call “The Bucket List” the worst of his best work, or the best of his worst work. While not a classic in its own right, “The Bucket List” displays two great actors in classic form, a sort of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” for maturing audiences.
Your kids may not get any of this, at least for a few more years.
Rated PG-13 for language including a single f-word.