Popcorn and Inspiration: ‘The Bucket List’: A Touching Tale of Friendship and Last Wishes

May 7, 2020 Updated: May 7, 2020

PG-13 | 1h 37min | Comedy, Drama | 11 January 2008 (USA)

Before seeing director Rob Reiner’s 2008 dramedy “The Bucket List,” the critic in me worried that it might not live up to my expectations. The plot certainly sounded inspiring, but I was concerned that it would be a little too saccharine for my taste, or simply ring false. Boy, was I wrong.

The first act of the film shows us background info on two men from completely different walks of life. Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) is a working-class auto mechanic. He’s a brilliant and wise man who has an unwavering faith in God, but he happens to be at odds with his wife, Virginia (Beverly Todd). Meanwhile, Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) is a loud and obnoxious corporate mogul with money to burn.

Morgan Freeman near a car
Morgan Freeman (L) plays a retired auto mechanic and Jack Nicholson a mogul in “The Bucket List.” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

The one thing that the men have in common is the fact that they both have terminal cancer: The two end up sharing a hospital room together. At first, the pair seem to be at odds with each other. Edward’s rudeness doesn’t mix well with Carter’s intellectualism, which sometimes comes off as condescending.

However, the two begin to thaw out one another’s icy façade; they even begin playing cards together on a regular basis. Carter’s family drops in on him throughout his hospital stay, but the only person to visit Edward is his assistant, Thomas (Sean Hayes). One day, Carter begins to write a list of things that he’d like to do before he dies, the titular “Bucket List.”

Jack Nicholson with a bucket list
Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) holds the bucket list. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

The men are eventually informed by the medical staff that they have only six months to a year to live. Because of the crushing news, one of Carter’s first reactions is to throw away his list. Edward later stumbles across it and scribbles his own items on it as well.

Edward tells Carter that they can actualize the list together since he has the financial means to make it possible.

Carter, a proud man, initially refuses. But the shrewd businessman within Edward convinces Carter to take a globe-trotting trip around the world with him to places such as Egypt, India, and France so that they can realize their last wishes. Their sudden departure causes a further rift between Carter and Virginia.

Their Journey

Edward and Carter’s journey starts off on a whimsical note as they engage in skydiving and muscle car racing, to name a few activities. The comedy between this odd couple feels natural as the men bond. Throughout the trip, however, they begin to share deeper things about their pasts, as well as what made them who they are. They discuss faith, family, their philosophies, and childhoods.

two men looking at pyramids
Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson, L) and Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) in Egypt. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

At a certain point, it dawns on them both that although they come from different walks of life, they are grappling with similar things. Carter is running away from his family in order to do things he never got to do because of the sacrifices he made as a hard-working family man. Edward’s never found true love and has been avoiding contact with his estranged daughter for years.

For the most part, Nicholson doesn’t fall too much into his Nicholson-mode (with flailing eyebrows and all), and we can see his character: a rich man afraid to die, with no one to love or to be loved by.

Meanwhile, Freeman completely disappears into his role as a somewhat bitter man who never actualized his dreams because of family obligations. The two brilliant actors effectively portray two individuals who are trying to figure out what their lives mean, as well as what their limited futures might hold.

“The Bucket List” may initially resemble a buddy-road-trip film, but it manages to escape the trivial trappings of the genre. The result, under Reiner’s assured directing hand, is a phenomenal cinematic experience that blends deeply moving drama with some lighter comedic bits spliced in. It will cause many a tear to be shed, as well as bouts of laughter.

‘The Bucket List’
Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hours, 37 minutes
Release Date: Jan. 11, 2008 (USA)
Rated: 4.5 stars out of 5

Ian Kane is a filmmaker and author based out of Los Angeles. To see more, visit DreamFlightEnt.com or contact him at Twitter.com/ImIanKane