...an absolutely glorious landfill of random information, some of it substantive, much of it useless.

The Bucket List

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            Don’t expect a comic romp from “The Bucket List.” Although the hype and trailers have promised high comedy, the movie is far more reflective than the promise. If you are a baby boomer in your fifties, the movie will trigger early thoughts of your own mortality. If you are seventy and up, it’s a guarantee that your own bucket list will have taken first shape by the time you leave the theater.

            A bucket list is, of course, the final tally of what you would want to experience if you had been handed a medical death sentence like the one handed to both Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) and Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) in the cancer wing of a hospital owned by Edward Cole, hospital tycoon. At one point or another, each man endures pain, vomiting, surgery, chemotherapy, baldness, fear, and sadness – a pretty long string of negatives for a comedy, and yet director Rob Reiner, whose hand is not steady in shifting between comedy and tragedy, forces the two patients to wrap it all in good humor. Playing true to their own images, Jack Nicholson makes Edward a cranky, unpleasant roommate for Morgan Freeman’s always dignified, cerebral Carter.

            Of the two, Freeman’s contained portrayal of Carter hits us harder. Carter, whose dreams were sidelined by the mechanics of living, became an auto mechanic. Along the way he crammed his head with an absolutely glorious landfill of random information, some of it substantive, much of it useless. He passes his hospital time answering every question on TV’s “Jeopardy.”

            Jack Nicholson’s Edward is a cynic who speaks his nasty thoughts. Edward is alone in life by choice (after four marriages that failed for the same overwhelming reason: he’s Edward). Intrigued by Carter’s bucket list, Edward adds a few of his own line items and talks his equally sick new friend into experiencing the list. The cynic finally endears himself to us by quietly paying more attention to Carter’s dreams than to his own. For once, he is looking after someone else.

            Director Reiner slips with a few squirmy moments that make an old person look silly. Sex in the rest room of an airliner, for instance, is not something an audience wants to visualize in its elders. The rest is fine: they skydive, race the car of Carter’s dreams, go on Safari, and see the pyramids – always living at the peak of the luxury Edward can afford. The charm of the movie lies in some of the unexpected ways the bucket list items are realized and the understanding of each man toward the other as their friendship grows.

            Still, Rob Reiner’s film is a heavy handed string of clichés. Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson deserved far better than this; but for our pleasure, they have used their huge talents to create characters who have given us the productive assignment of drawing up a bucket list that might do for us what it did for them.


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