The Bucket List (2007)


The Bucket List
Dir. Rob Reiner
Premiered December 16, 2007

The Bucket List is not a good movie. It was trashed by critics. It is consistent with director Rob Reiner’s work, which to date consists of a decade of classic films followed by a much longer ongoing period of outright garbage. And yet the term “bucket list” lives on.

Elderly Los Angeles mechanic Carter (Morgan Freeman) is diagnosed with cancer. Despite chemotherapy, he is given months to live. At the hospital, he gets an unexpected roommate: Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson), the hospital’s fabulously wealthy owner and an elder playboy, who is forced to stay with Carter for public relations purposes as his privatization program is alleged to reduce the quality of care. In 2007, even The Bucket List needed to get a little political.

The two men couldn’t be more different, but when Edward discovers Carter’s “bucket list,” an unfulfilled list of dying dreams from his college years, he’s intrigued and decides to bring Carter along on a trip around the world to cross everything off the list.

The term was coined by the film’s screenwriter, Justin Zackham, who wrote his own as a young man, and developed it into a screenplay not long after. That the script was written in the late 1990s is unsurprising; The Bucket List is an exemplar of “feel-good” movies– slick, star-studded dramedies with low stakes that supposedly warmed the heart and jerked the tears. Films like this constituted the bulk of studio releases from the mid-1990s until the 9/11 attacks made their brand of tacky sentimentality deeply unpopular.

But The Bucket List is also evocative of a new type of inconsequential dramedy: the “Old Guys Rule” movie, usually a rom-com, in which a litany of A-list geriatrics from the days when big stars were the key to high grosses prove they’ve still “got it.” I have yet to see one such film in this generation that is good. The Bucket List’s script is full of hokey dialogue and inconsistent characterization, surprisingly one-note peripheral characters (Sean Hayes as Edward’s beleaguered assistant feels like a shrill imitation of a similar character in The Darjeeling Limited). But the film’s main sin is that which it shares with almost all feel-good movies: it’s boring.

Sign This Was Made in 2007
Edward watches a Dodger game on network TV, with Vin Scully as host.

Additional Notes
A man of Carter’s generation went to college– presumably in the 1950s, when only 6% of American men had degrees– and he’s still an auto mechanic?

How Did It Do?
The Bucket List grossed $175.4 million against a $45 million budget, and perhaps earned a place in the English language, but critics at large did not take to its vaguely curmudgeonly brand of Canter’s in-house schmaltz, earning it a 40% rating on RottenTomatoes.

No great filmmaker has ever hit such a wall as Rob Reiner. Once having batted 1.000 with classics This Is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men, and Misery, he has spent the last 25 years trying and failing to recover critically from the disaster of North. In the decade-plus since The Bucket List, Reiner’s releases have slipped further into obscurity, though no closer to the acclaim he once earned.

Next Time: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story