A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although this movie is a comedy, it deals with cancer and death: The first half of the movie shows how the illness ravages the body and wrecks the spirit (or at least attempts to). Patients are shown getting their heads shaved, doubled over toilets retching, and wandering hospital corridors tethered to IVs. Through it all, there's a fair amount of strong language (including "f--k," though it's sparing). Ultimately, though, the film is about overcoming challenges and staring death in the face without blinking -- an uplifting note on which to end.
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What's the story?
Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson at his preening best) and Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman as his usual noble self) are exact opposites: One is a hedonistic multi-millionaire playboy, the other is a loyal, long-married mechanic. But when they're both stricken with cancer, they wind up roommates in one of Cole's hospitals and become fast friends. When their prognoses turn grim, they make a pact to complete a "bucket list" -- an inventory of things they need to do before they die -- and set out to complete it. Naturally, their plan isn't as simple as it sounds. Both have unfinished business back home, and soon their journeys are interrupted by real-life demands. They also have metaphorical baggage to unpack, the biggest of which is facing death knowing that they've made peace with their lives.
Is it any good?
Viewers looking for innovative storytelling and surprises won't find much of either in Rob Reiner's THE BUCKET LIST. It's straightforward and predictable, with nary a divergence from the standard Hollywood playbook. But that doesn't mean it's not engaging -- and for that, it has its two leads to thank. You have to give the producers props for trying, but it's all a bit too treacly. Save for one unexpected twist, within the first half hour, you can pretty much tell which loose ends will be tied up before the credits roll. (No offense to Freeman, but can we do away with his now-ubiquitous, gravitas-filled voiceover? The man has other talents.) Cole will be revealed to have a soul much more complicated than the movie first hints; Chambers will become a man much more conflicted than his serene exterior suggests. And you can bet that each helps the other fully realize his potential.
Still, there's a certain delight in seeing Nicholson and Freeman interact; it's a heavyweight duet in which Reiner clearly takes delight. He gives them time to playfully spar and do what each does best (Nicholson is playful, Freeman is grave). Maybe the next movie they'll be in -- and they ought to team up again -- will have a more insightful, original script. Though, truth be told, obvious as The Bucket List may be, you may find yourself hard pressed not to be moved -- if only a little -- in the end.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Hollywood is enamored with movies about terminal illness (Terms of Endearment, Mask, My Life Without Me)? Why do you think that subject is so compelling to producers -- and audiences? How does this film find humor in the subject without going too far? What about it is realistic? And unrealistic? Do you know anyone who's battled cancer? What was that like?