Ever sat with someone on their deathbed and wished for them the best the world can offer? Just one more day, hour, meaningful, joyful minute? Perhaps just one more conversation to put everything right?
The Bucket List feels like a bright, funny version of that daydream. It is a salve to the cruelties of terminal anxiety and the stress of the hospice ward. Old Jack watched it on the iPad with Mad Maud. We were in the corridor outside Terminal Terry’s room. He’d been going for a while, but today the breathing went deep, slow and soft. We all knew the signs.
Jack Nicholson is Edward Cole, a stinking rich billionaire who owns the hospital and is in the same room as Morgan Freeman’s car-mechanic Carter – for Herculeanly unrealistic plot reasons. Rich and poor both have vicious cancers and six months to live. Both rise above plot, character and medical reality to give us a kindly, funny fantasy about hope and filling your soul before the end. Crumbly Film Template 3: “Don’t give up yet, you old fart” strikes again (The Last Word has identical beats…), but the performances charm you through it.
Maud has a thing for Morgan Freeman and his gentle-God voiceovers, so she was awash with lust throughout the film. His Carter has a Bucket List – things to do before kicking the bucket – and Nicholson funds their journey up and down it. Of course, this is Nicholson in recently-washed Joker mode, so the bullish caricature comes at you with neither subtlety nor much grace. But the old pros work beautifully together.
They sky-dive. They race fancy old cars. They travel the world’s sites: the Great Wall, Everest, fancy-pants France, the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramid and presumably more. All the things that Carter didn’t get to absorb while working under cars all his life and letting love for his wife grow stale. And all the things Cole had taken for granted whilst working through wives, money and cowering from the pain of his estranged daughter.
Oh yes. Plot creaking ahoy. They test each other to grow one last little bit before the end…
Under the linear plotting and the properly dodgy CGI (the sky-diving is mesmerisingly strange), there are two simple things not on the bucket list that really need doing…
So, do the old men fix their issues before they die? Do their adventures fill the gaps? Is the bucket list completed?
Oddly, beautifully, the last person to cross off part of the list is Sean Hayes as Matthew (well, Thomas – watch the film, you’ll understand). Old Jack always rather liked his roaringly open performances on Will & Grace. Here he is the sober, knowing assistant to Cole who does the leg-work of this kind-hearted fantasy for the dying.
Terminal Terry loved this film. We’d seen it a few weeks before and he’d laughed up a polyp at its silliness, comforting distance from any kind of medical reality, and how much he’d wished old Jack was a billionaire who could take him away to days of magic and wonder.
Much like Sean Hayes and the final act of the movie, when they’d cleared his room, Mad Maud and I pressed the flowers they’d left behind and posted them to Tibet.
Terry would have loved that.