For this month’s first review for Genre Grandeur – Dark Comedies, here’s a review of Bad Santa (2003) by Tom of Digital Shortbread
Thanks again to Reut of Sweet Archive. for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Steven of Past Present Future TV and Film We will be reviewing our favorite B&W films prior to 1990. Please get me your submissions by the 25th of August by sending them to email@example.com Try to think out of the box! Great choice Steven!
Let’s see what Tom thought of this movie:
Number of times seen: countless (theater, TV, DVD)
Brief Synopsis: A miserable conman and his partner pose as Santa and his Little Helper to rob department stores on Christmas Eve. But they run into problems when the conman befriends a troubled kid, and the security boss discovers the plot.
My take on it:
Bad Santa is the kind of dark comedy you watch when you’ve just had a terrible day. Not even a terrible Christmas day, but a terrible day in general. It’s a film filled with cynicism and callousness and unpleasantries and it’s not for those who prefer their Santa Clauses be portrayed with a holly-jolly heart and authentic facial hair and all that.
Billy Bob Thornton plays a drunken loser who just so happens to have stumbled into the mall Santa gig. When he’s not having to listen to a mob of kids tell him what they expect under their Christmas trees this year, Santa (a.k.a. Willie — perfect name for a conman) moonlights as a jewelry thief, robbing stores with his elfin sidekick Marcus (Tony Cox).
He makes his manager Bob (John Ritter) thoroughly uncomfortable with his lewd, obnoxious behavior on the job. That’s actually the same impression Willie gives to anyone who gets within arm’s reach of him. He’s a thoroughly miserable person, and if you can’t tap into Thornton’s sense of humor here I wouldn’t blame you. It’s certainly. . . dark, bordering on dour. But there’s great comedy in bleakness, and if you ask me there are one too many cheerful holiday films based around this sensationally over-sentimentalized season, so it’s nice to see director Terry Zwigoff take his film in a . . . different direction. Thornton clearly embraces the concept as well, as his performance is essentially what this dark comedy hinges on.
Bad Santa paints a portrait of a man defined somewhat by a kind of arrested development. Wilie’s a man-child when you get right down to it, and his ‘fuck-it-all’ attitude proves it. When push comes to shove and he entraps himself in the role of a surrogate father to a pre-teen, whose own parents are never around and whose home he had previously tried robbing assuming that it was empty, Willie chooses the slow, painful road to adulthood and ends up becoming something of a mentor to the kid. Of course it’s a very reluctant choice but Willie could have just as easily said to hell with that responsibility too.
Bad Santa’s may not be a prime example of parenthood, much less of jolly old Saint Nick, but ultimately it knows where to drop the curtain on cynicism and let a new light shine. Where some might dismiss the ending as too-pat or incongruous to the film’s otherwise consistently pessimistic worldview, I see a natural and fitting end to a particularly challenging phase in Willie’s adulthood. One can only stay at rock-bottom for so long.
Thornton comes close to convincing us his character is someone unworthy of redemption but beneath his crusty exterior there’s a desire to prove otherwise. Bad Santa isn’t going to sit well with everyone but if you are a fan of rather dark comedy — and you’re not the type to take kindly to children singing Christmas carols out on your front lawn — then this is a film worth risking a stocking full of coal this year for.
Bottom Line: Bad Santa might be an acquired taste but for those who like their comedies dark, it really delivers. Sure it softens up a bit at the end but, come on. Mall Santas have it pretty rough, they deserve a happy ending, right? Billy Bob Thornton shows a different side to him and it’s welcomed. Good performances from a game supporting cast, as well.
Rating: Globe Worthy