The 2007 film The Bucket List has become something of a classic amongst viewers of travel films. Though it received mixed reviews upon its release, it went on to become one of the top films of the year. But how does it hold up today?
[WARNING: Spoilers Ahead]
In the film, two terminally ill men, a corporate billionaire Edward Cole (Nicholson) and blue-collar mechanic Carter Chambers (Freeman), decide to go on a trip to complete all the things they’ve never been able to do before (the “bucket list” of the title).
The two meet at a hospital, where they happen to be sharing a room; and while it initially seems like they have nothing in common, they eventually discover that the both of them have a wish list of unaccomplished goals.
So, Edward and Carter break out of the hospital and go on a globetrotting adventure to finish all the items on Carter’s bucket list before they “kick the bucket”. Their journey takes them on a roller coaster ride that includes skydiving; driving a race car; flying over the North Pole; eating caviar in the south of France; sitting atop the Great Pyramid at Giza; going on a lion safari in Tanzania; visiting the Taj Mahal; seeing Mt. Everest, riding motorcycles on the Great Wall of China, and more.
Along the way, the two men forge an unlikely friendship and learn lessons about living life to the fullest, and what truly makes life worth living.
The Unabashed Sentimentality of The Bucket List
Based on a screenplay by Justin Zackham, this film was criticised by some for its heavy-handed sentimental nature and the cliché-ridden dialogue that would not seem out of place in a sitcom. The lighthearted buddy comedy also often feels a little out of place with the downbeat nature of its actual storyline. Especially elements like the cutesy addition of Carter and Edward singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” while on safari in Africa. It also seems to rely very heavily on the star power and chemistry of the leads.
However, while Freeman and Nicholson offer predictably good performances for two great stars, their characters are ones they have both portrayed many times before. Carter, the quiet man with dignified sage-like wisdom, and Edward, an hot-tempered, selfish jerk with a secret heart of gold, are almost stock characters by this point.
The many locations are also obviously filmed on a soundstage, with the backgrounds added in with special effects. So, while the film does showcase these spectacular destinations, their green-screen tour of the globe looks about as convincing as a painted backdrop.
Additionally, it sets up some super unrealistic expectations of travel, as all the popular monuments they visit – from the Great Wall to the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal – are eerily empty of tourists (yes, I know it’s a movie, and not to be taken seriously, but still, where are all the people?).
Then there is the medical improbability of two terminally ill cancer patients galavanting around the globe and taking part in adrenaline-packed adventures like sky diving and race car driving. As Roger Ebert said in his review, “I urgently advise hospitals: Do not make the DVD available to your patients; there may be an outbreak of bedpans thrown at TV screens.”
Ebert, who was himself suffering from thyroid cancer, criticized the film’s portrayal of cancer sufferers, saying that “[the film] thinks dying of cancer is a laff riot followed by a dime-store epiphany.”
However, those looking for something light and charmingly palatable to watch on a Sunday afternoon could do a whole lot worse than The Bucket List. Even amidst the formulaic story and slightly shallow characters, it is reasonably captivating, delivering some witty lines and emotional moments.
It might not be the funniest or the deepest comedies out there, but it is sure to (at the very least) make you wonder about all the places you want to visit yourself, and all the experiences you want to have. Just don’t try climbing the real pyramids – it’s extremely illegal!