As much silly as serious . . .
"The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young."
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Now and then I should rethink what I've been learning all these years as a critic because I predicted Bucket List would have all kinds of holes in it. It did, but they were tiny blemishes in an otherwise solid frame. This is a good movie, as much silly as serious. And therein lies the skill of director Rob Reiner, who makes sure Jack doesn't kill the lines with bluster and Morgan doesn't drown them in vocal sweetness.
Edward (Nicholson) and Carter (Freeman) meet in hospital where they have been given less than a year to live because of cancer. They bond, create the "kick-the-bucket" list of ten things to do before dying, and then do them. The hokey process shots at several of the world's wonders indicate the surety of Reiner's direction where he evokes the old Hope and Crosby road pictures and emphasizes that the journey is the important thing, not the destination.
Both men laugh and cry and change in subtle ways that make this not a maudlin exercise in death denial but rather a celebration of love through friendship, regardless of the grim future. Although Justin Zachman's script is overall weak given the actors' worth, there are lines that save it all from mediocrity: As Edward the cynic says, "We live, we die, and the wheels on the bus go round and round." As Carter the humanist says, "You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you." The two philosophies, fate and love, caress in a slow dance to recognition of life's true value.
Bucket List is not half as sappy as I sound so far; it is a sober rendering of life's lessons at the end by two different men who find their common humanity.