Stuff I Watch in December: Bad Santa (2003)

Happy Holidays and welcome! We are counting down the days until December 25th and, in that time, I will be reviewing each and every Christmas/holiday film I watch during the month. They’re mostly a selection of films in my own library or films and shows that have been recommended to me.

Please enjoy and leave a comment!

And if you missed any of our past reflections, take a look:

Holiday Inn (1942)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
White Christmas (1954)
Santa Claus (1959)
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
I Believe in Santa Claus (1984)
Lethal Weapon (1986)
Die Hard (1988)
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
Scrooged (1988)
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Home Alone (1990)
Die Hard 2 (1990)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown (1992)
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Jingle All the Way (1996)
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Home Alone 3 (1997)
Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999)
Olive the Other Reindeer (1999)
Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (2002)
I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown (2003)
Elf (2003)
Love, Actually (2003)
Home Alone 4 (2003)

Our next film is…

WATCHING: Bad Santa (2003)

bad santa

DIRECTOR: Terry Zwigoff who directed the outstanding documentary Crumb as well as the excellent Ghost World. This was just another great entry in his short filmography.

WHAT IS IT?: An extremely outrageous comedy starring Billy Bob Thornton as an alcoholic, chain-smoking mall Santa Claus.

THE PLOT: Whereas The Ref gave us holiday-themed chaos and strife, it was somewhat manageable chaos. The characters in that film ironed out their differences and became (somewhat) better people. Bad Santa seems to lack that hope, and presents us with a man who is below the bottom of the barrel in Billy Bob Thornton’s “Willie Soke”, a thief who spends each Christmas infiltrating big name department stores by working as the adjoining mall’s Santa Claus, a role he barely inhabits and is apathetic toward the notion of ever doing so. He’s an old, tired alcoholic with deep emotional scars, the result of a hinted-at tumultuous childhood as well as trauma from military service in the 60’s and 70’s.

When his partner-in-crime, Marcus (Tony Cox, who plays his “elf”) decides to pull another big score at a mall in Arizona, Soke accordingly suits up — but, this time, he finds a romantic interest in a local bartender and accidentally becomes a pseudo-guardian to a kid whose mom is dead and whose dad is in prison for fraud. This makes his bad habits even worse, which doesn’t go unnoticed by an exhausted Marcus.

WHAT DID CRITICS THINK?: The film received positive reviews with a lot of the main praise going to Thornton

bad santa

WHAT DID I THINK?: I’m not even gonna kid myself.

You’re like, “This isn’t a Christmas movie” or you’re asking me “Why would anyone watch this?” to which I answer “I don’t care what you think” and “because it’s the epitome of Christmas”. For every happy soul at the mall buying gifts for loved ones, listening to Christmas music, decorating the house, baking pies or spending time with family…there’s always somebody on the opposite end, wallowing in their own self-imposed emotional prison. As hilarious as this movie can be, Thornton’s portrayal of Soke is representative of the thousands of people who struggle with their own personal demons during the holidays. Thornton gives us an anti-hero who simultaneously disgusts you and makes you feel empathy simply because, at some point, you’ve been him in some small way. Chevy Chase’s “Clark Griswold” has been close to visiting that place inside him. But he’s never actually been there. For the first time, we get to see what it’s like to be “that guy” during the holidays.

It’s equal parts beautiful, reprehensible and sad. But like a horrendous train wreck, while you want to avert your eyes, you can’t. You just can’t.

At one point, Soke just wants to end his life and attempts suicide — but is pulled out of it because the kid he’s partially looking after got bullied and, goddammit, those bullies are gonna get the shit kicked out of them by Soke for ever doing something like that to a kid.

In anyone else’s hands, Bad Santa would have been a total disaster but director Terry Zwigoff’s casting of Thornton is a stroke of genius. I cannot stress this enough: Thornton is SO GOOD in this film and and not only gives us one of his greatest, most complex performances ever, but one of the more memorable Christmas movie characters in history.

GRADE: A-

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