As Benjamin Franklin famously Tweeted, there are only two things that are certain in this life: death and taxes. (Death & Taxes is the name of your Lower East Side “speakeasy.”) And as Gandalf famously wrote on his Tumblr, “Hey, don’t kill that goblin, because you only get to choose what to do with the time you are given, and it is our time down here, up there it is their time but it is our time down here. Now let’s go save those Goondocks using my magic tricks!” The point is: death comes to all of us, and we don’t know what happens next, so it’s probably a pretty smart move to make the most of our time here while we’ve still got it. This is a philosophy that I agree with and subscribe to! It is hard to do, actually. Most of life, at least it seems to me, is one long string of worries and disappointments, even when you are kind of aware that the worries and disappointments are valueless in the grand scheme of things and that you should probably be way more Elizabeth Gilbert (minus the being an asshole and the insufferable self-congratulations) about the whole thing. But still, we try. And so, in that sense, I respect one of the underlying premises of The Bucket List. We should all be so lucky when faced with the reality of our own deaths to skydive or whatever the fuck. Eat a nice dinner. Why not?! Yes!
OK, cool, so, now that we have talked about the thing that I respect about The Bucket List, let’s talk about the things that I do not respect:
Most everything else about it! The Bucket List is about Morgan Freeman, who is a car mechanic who happens to be VERY good at answering trivia questions (because, it will turn out, he wanted to be a history professor, and you know how THEY are about trivia) and Jack Nicholson, who is a billionaire crabapple who owns a bunch of hospitals. That will prove to be very ironic when he gets sick and has to go to one. LOL. They are roommates in Kancer Korner. “Wait, wouldn’t a billionaire have his own room if he was diagnosed with cancer and needed surgery and radiation treatments?” Don’t worry, there is a boring explanation for that in the exposition! Besides, if you didn’t unnaturally force them into a set-piece together, these two characters would never be able to have a cliche bonding experience that transforms them from begrudging enemies into very best friends!
One night, as these things happen, BOTH MEN ARE DIAGNOSED WITH SIX MONTHS TO LIVE. Sure. (Let me tell you something right now: that’s not even a problem as far as this movie is concerned, so let’s just move on.) The next morning, they are both about to check out of the hospital and go home and await death when Jack Nicholson picks up a crumpled piece of paper off the floor and reads it, the way billionaires are constantly doing (actually, to be fair to the Bucket List’s accuracy in the portrayal of billionaires, he does have his assistant pick it up and hand it to him) and is like “what is this? Bu…buck…bucket liisssst? What is a bucket list?!” Morgan Freeman explains that his philosophy professor in college gave them a SNORE I AM ASLEEP. Shut up, Morgan Freeman. It’s not that mind-blowing to make a list of the things you’d like to do before you die, so spare me the backstory. Every list on his item, incidentally, is very college sophomore (female), like, “laugh until I cry” and “see something beautiful.” Oh good grief! LAUGH UNTIL YOU CRY?! Anyway, Jack Nicholson makes some adjustments to the list including “skydive” and “get a tattoo” (which is also very college sophomore, just with a different class schedule) and off they go on their trip. Is Morgan Freeman’s wife happy that her husband was just given six months to live and now he is leaving on an adventure? No she is not. Should we address that issue? Let’s just jump out of a plane.
So, the boys have an adventure. They race cars! They eat a dinner in France! They go to the Himalayas but it is cloudy! So…mostly they just live Jack Nicholson’s normal billionaire life? Oh, it sounds nice, I am just saying. His Bucket List seems to mostly just be his iCal. Eventually, Morgan Freeman decides that it is time to go home and see his wife. Then the two boys have a fight because Morgan Freeman tries to get Jack Nicholson to reconnect with his estranged daughter. “Just because I told you my life story does not invite you to be a part of it.” Well, no, I thought inviting him on a tour around the world on your private jet was what invited him to be a part of it. Anyway, I guess we are supposed to feel sad for Jack Nicholson because all he has is a fancy house filled with hookers (#theoriginalwinning) and happy for Morgan Freeman because he has a more “comfy” (but still really nice!) house filled with a family, but then Morgan Freeman dies and then Jack Nicholson says hi to his daughter and dies, so they’re both dead, and Morgan Freeman is narrating the whole movie from heaven so I guess they go to heaven, although Jack Nicholson doesn’t narrate the movie and Morgan Freeman’s ghost makes no mention of their current relationship it is all in the past tense so make of that what you will. The end.
Here’s a question: who is this movie for? Is it for people who are dying? Because if it is for people who are dying: YIKES. It can’t be for people who are dying, right? OK, so it is for people who are alive. But what people? This is supposed to be a touching buddy comedy, but most of the jokes involve, like, vomiting from chemotherapy, or Jack Nicholson teasing Morgan Freeman because the only person he has ever slept with is his wife, although isn’t that supposed to be kind of a nice thing? (Also: in real life Morgan Freeman FUCKED HIS GRANDAUGHTER, REMEMBER THAT? Cross THAT off the Bucket List.) Look, I know that death and illness are important stitches in the fabric of life, and I actually PREFER dark and serious comedies that make light of the tragedy of the human experience, but that’s not what this is. This is Wild Cancer Hogs. So the question remains unanswered: who is this movie for?
And let’s do a little more unpacking of the movie’s message. As I mentioned, I’m all for people making the most of their time on Earth, even if they’re in full health! And if you are faced with impending death, there is nothing wrong with trying to turn it into a celebration of life. Sort of. But, like, when Morgan Freeman decides to go on this trip with the cranky dude he just met, he doesn’t patiently explain to his wife why this is important to him, or what kind of peace of mind it will provide in the face of the great unknown. He just snaps at her that he’s done enough for his fucking family and it’s time for him to get some Quality Morgan Time. Whoa, buddy! Is that really how you want to go out? Also: while I understand (as much as someone who has not had to personally struggle with these issues can understand) how someone might not have any patience for the wills and desires of others when seeing his or her own time running out, but you actually do kind of have a responsibility to helping your family cope with their own sense of panic and loss. Sorry! Them’s the breaks! Sucks to be you, make believe character in a buddy comedy about cancer!
On top of that, there is the very real problem that not anyone (basically no one) gets a billionaire for a roommate when they are hospitalized with terminal and inoperable cancer. So, a lot of people simply don’t have the means to go on a trip around the world in a private jet. That’s OK! We are almost all of us in that very same boat. But movies like this always make this logically incongruous point that somehow the most important things in life are not the things that cost money, but that we can only arrive at that understanding by having access to so much money. Huh. What this movie suggests is that before you die, you should definitely live like a billionaire but then go home to the loving family of a man who has foregone his dreams for the sake of having a family. WAIT, HOW DO WE DO THAT?!
And then, of course, there are the faces. The Bucket Faces.
The Bucket List is not the Worst Movie of All Time. I even got a little misty eyed at the end when Jack Nicholson speaks at Morgan Freeman’s SPOILER ALERT funeral, because I always get misty-eyed at funerals, even fake funerals, like, for example, I cried through the entire episode of Family Ties where Michael Keaton’s grandfather died? MOGUL GETS EMOTIONAL! But it is still a very weird and weak movie combining super trite statements about life and happiness with a completely nonsensical message about the value of a billion dollars. If you have not seen this movie yet, might I suggest that you add the following line item to your own bucket list: “die without having seen The Bucket List. Spend that hour and a half doing ANYTHING ELSE.”