Friday, June 20, 2014

The Bucket List Review

There are a number of movies that find humor, albeit of a bitter and sardonic nature, in cancer. It's a touchy subject for a lot of people, so making a light of it is risky business. While the "dramedy" movie The Bucket List (2007) tries to find some levity in a pair of terminal cancer patients, it will probably offend actual cancer patients more than entertain or uplift.
Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) is a corporate billionaire who is currently sharing a hospital room with blue-collar mechanic Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman). Though initially the pair seem to have nothing in common, conversation gradually reveals that both men have a long list of goals they wish to accomplish before they kick the bucket, and an unrealized desire to discover what kind of men they really are. But one can't accomplish such lofty objectives from the confines of a hospital bed, so now in order to live their lives to the absolute fullest, Edward and Carter will have to make a break for it. With a checklist that includes playing poker tables in Monte Carlo, racing the fastest machines on four wheels, and much more, these two terminally ill men will do their best to fit a lifetime of experience into their last remaining days while forging an unlikely, but remarkable, friendship.
I've lost a couple of family members to cancer and have had a few friends and contacts who have recovered from it. Having seen what they go through, I feel like I can safely say that these two characters are suffering from a cancer that is nothing like cancer. I have had non-cancer related surgery, and I can only imagine recovery being far worse with a cancer surgery. I cannot for the life of me imagine that during convalescence after such surgery that climbing the Himalayas would be something to put on ones' bucket list. More realistic bucket list items might include keeping down a full meal, having a triumphant bowel movement, keeping your energy up in the afternoon, or letting your loved ones know you love them. Seriously, I imagine that if The Bucket List were shown in hospital cancer treatment wards, there would be an outbreak of bedpans thrown at TV screens.
Seeing Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in the same movie was pretty fun. Both are phenomenal actors, and they did a great job here. It was a good performance given the material they had to work with, anyway. The movie opens with yet another voiceover narration by Morgan Freeman, praising the virtues of a white person who deserves our reverence. That works well in movies like The Shawshank Redemption, but not when he is talking about a character played by Jack Nicholson, for whom lovability is not a strong suit. Carter is faithfully married to his loving wife, Virginia (Beverly Todd), and has very simple and conservative values. Edward, after four divorces, has no restraints, plenty of regrets, and uses his generosity to mask egotism, selfishness, and the imposition of his goofy whim on poor Carter. As the two travel the world they have pseudo-profound conversations about 'The Meaning of It All'  and Carter's superior humanity begins to soak in for the petulant Edward. The characters are predictable but without the A-list actors portraying them, the script could have been much worse.
There are a few good things that The Bucket List does. Those pseudo-profound conversations do make you think fleetingly about life and death. For me it was just enough to remind me how uncomfortable a topic it is to think about. There is a scene where Edward and Carter are in Egypt and Carter talks about the two questions the ancient Egyptians believed they were asked upon getting to heaven; have you found joy in your life, and has your life brought joy to others. Edward responds to the second question with a story about protecting his daughter from an abusive relationship which caused her to never speak to him again. This scene caused me to reflect on my relationship with others and also illustrates how judging the quality of a person is a complicated thing that is subject to many different perspectives. These few thought-provoking moments aren't as profound as the movie would like us to think they are, but they do manage to prompt some personal reflection.
The Bucket List is about two old codgers who are not much like real people, who are suffering from cancer that is nothing like cancer, and set off on an adventure that is not within the realm of possibility. The characters are predictable and weak, even if they are portrayed by excellent actors. I still can't look at Jack Nicholson without seeing The Joker in Tim Burton's Batman. The script is weak, but still tugs at your heartstrings every now and then. It gets you to reflect on your life, but isn't as deep as it wants us to think it is. It is a comedy-drama and is worth a few laughs. The writers for this script had to be very optimistic and know basically nothing about this very serious illness; the drama in this movie is about as cheap as most sitcom clich├ęs. Having said that, I might consent to see The Bucket List a second time since it's not flat out awful, but it's not worth buying a copy.

There are some decent movies about cancer patients, none of which are based on Nicholas Sparks novels. What are some good ones that you've seen? I heard 50/50  was excellent. Comment below and tell me about good movies about cancer patients that you've seen!

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