Living in the bubble we know as the University of Michigan, many students probably assume that people outside the ages of 18 to 25 don’t exist. “The Bucket List,” about two terminally ill retirees, is a crashing reminder that this isn’t so. Old people do exist and, darn it, they are people too.
The film places 2007’s version of “The Odd Couple”, poor and possibly sedated Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman, “Million Dollar Baby”) and rich and crotchety Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson, “The Departed”), in the same hospital room, both suffering from cancer. The men, after the prerequisite elderly bonding, which consists of talking about their families, gin rummy and watching each other suffer through medical treatments, learn that neither has more than a year to live. Such discovery engenders the “Bucket List,” an exercise dreamt up by Carter’s freshman year philosophy professor on a day when he clearly had nothing to teach. The list is the ultimate indulgence in fantasy – a recording of all the things one hopes to accomplish before one “kicks the bucket.” Luckily for Carter, his roommate, Edward, is rich and willing, and the two men set off to accomplish all the things on their list.
Nicholson and Freeman, two very talented actors – four Oscars and many other nominations between the two – probably knew what they were signing up for with this movie. Still, they could have put in a little effort. It often feels like they’re acting-by-numbers, with both men falling back on their tried-and-true approach of fleshing out a character. Not only does Nicholson go all crazy-eyed and ranty again, but his character is also, surprise surprise, a womanizer. Freeman, unsurprisingly, is the calmer, more sad-eyed half. Even when Carter is ticked off at whatever outrageous thing Edward has just done, Freeman barely raises his voice above monotone.
Of course, “The Bucket List” also features the uninspired device of Freeman narrating the film. It almost seems like part of his contract nowadays. And the supporting performances aren’t much better. Sean Hayes’s (TV’s “Will & Grace”) portrayal as Edward’s assistant and/or slave, Thomas, is just a disappointment. Give the guy golf claps for trying more dramatic fare, but frankly, a Sean Hayes that isn’t comedic isn’t a Sean Hayes worth seeing.
The film, especially in its early scenes, has difficulty deciding between comedy and tragedy. There’s a difference between a movie that deals with illness in a less depressing way and one that makes light of the actual suffering cancer patients go through. Jokes involving serious matters like chemotherapy – for instance, a scene where Edward throws up his fancy meal because radiation makes him nauseated – fall disturbingly flat.
The movie urges us to root for these two men, but you can’t help feeling that Carter is acting somewhat selfishly when he abandons his family in order to drive a fancy car and visit a few foreign cities. Edward similarly adds to the confusion. As he dramatically pounds away at a tightly packaged gourmet dinner for one, are we supposed to laugh or feel bad for the guy? Often it sits somewhere in the middle, where it’s hard to care either way, and in the end, all we’re left with is the residue of sickly sweet, forced life lessons and a slight fear of getting older.
Rating: 1 and a half out of 5 stars
The Bucket List
At Showcase and Quality 16