The critics hated “The Bucket List,” but audiences liked it. Go to the Rotten Tomatoes page for this movie and you’ll see the results. Frankly, I’m not surprised, but I’ll confess that I side with the public. This film is a guilty pleasure. Of course, it’s not a great film, and I’m sure the critics expected more from a film directed by Rob Reiner and starring acting icons Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. But that shouldn’t spoil the fun.
Billionaire Edward Cole (Nicholson) and car mechanic Carter Chambers (Freeman) are complete strangers before finding themselves in the same hospital room, both fighting cancer. Cole owns the hospital, and is annoyed that he has to share a room to avoid being a hypocrite. He instituted the policy of two patients to a room, no exceptions.
Naturally, they begin to get to know each other, and start to become friends just as they both learn that they each have 6 – 12 months to live. Which leads to the bucket list, and then their short adventure.
Much of this is predictable, so the critics have plenty to complain about. Many of the scenes offer up a series of cliches, and there’s nothing surprising about the ending. Also, Nicholson and Freemen aren’t being asked to stretch their talents here, with Nicholson playing the pushy, ornery character and Freeman cast as the cerebral, fatherly figure.
Yet it works, mostly because Nicholson and Freeman are so damn good. These roles aren’t challenging for them, but they play them to perfection. There’s clear chemistry between the two actors, even though this was the first time they worked together. You believe you’re watching real characters, not famous actors, and you can see them developing a real friendship.
Also, Beverly Todd is brilliant as Carter’s wife. Their relationship offers up the most interesting and nuanced part of the story. In many ways the premise is ridiculous. Carter and his wife are having some issues with their marriage, but they have a big family and Carter decides to take off with Edward on an adventure, leaving his wife and family behind. Who would do that?
Yet Freeman and Todd play their roles so well that you find yourself believing the story. Take this away and the film starts to fall apart. “The Bucket List” is a great example of how several nuanced characters played by brilliant actors and actresses can carry a film, even if the script is lacking. Sean Hayes also delivers a fine, if understated, performance as Edward’s executive assistant.
In the end, this is a classic Hollywood “feel-good” movie with some moving scenes and enough laughs to make the ride enjoyable. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed. And like any good feel-good movie, it puts your own mortality in perspective and makes you think about what’s important in life. So if you have a free evening, “The Bucket List” is a perfectly fine option when considering streaming options.