Droid defines the Decades best movies – #15 Bad Santa (2003)
Christmas movies are usually saccharine filled garbage where some selfish twat learns the true meaning of Christmas and becomes a “better” person. Then there’s ‘Bad Santa’, which sees a vile, loathsome, selfish cretin beat up kids, bang fat chicks and piss himself while a line of kids wait to sit on his lap. Needless to say this is my kind of holiday movie.
Willie Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) hates everyone, especially himself. Along with being a safe cracker, he’s an alcoholic, degenerate scumbag. He and his partner Marcus (Tony Cox) run an annual scam. In the lead up to each Christmas, they pose as a department store Santa and his elf, and on Christmas Eve they rob it. Through various turns of events too complicated to explain, he winds up living in the house of a weird kid named Thurman (Brett Kelly), having sex with a bartender with a Santa fetish (Lauren Graham) and being investigated by the Department Store manager (John Ritter) and it’s head of security (Bernie Mac).
There’s no two ways about it. Thornton is absolute genius as Willie. It’s one of those performances where you couldn’t imagine any other actor pulling it off. It’s a virtually impossible role. He’s such a despicable character that our natural instinct is to dislike him. And the film makes no attempt to soften him. He’s constantly drunk, screams at everyone, robs people, and is generally hateful. If this were a person you knew in real life, you’d avoid him at any cost. But as played by Thornton, you find yourself liking him. In a very abstract way, I can relate to him. He’s kind of a no holds barred version of the guy I’d like to be every now and then. Not anywhere near to that extent, and not really the individual as a whole, but definitely some aspects of his personality. He just couldn’t give two shits what anyone thinks. His reactions to annoying situations are priceless. The alarm clock tantrum, the game of checkers with Thurman, and especially his reaction to being approached by a women and child when he’s eating his lunch. That’s probably my favourite moment in the film. It’s especially funny because these moments are also truthful. Being the well-adjusted human beings we are, we are doubtful to react to such situations with such venom, but as a fantasy surrogate, Willie’s unhinged outbursts are completely relatable.
Let me just clarify, before you rip in, I don’t want to be Willie. I’d just like to be able to drop the F-Bomb in a foul mouthed tirade when something or someone annoys me, that’s all. Anyway, back to reality.
This film is tinged with a little melancholy, as it features two fine comic actors who are no longer with us. Shortly after filming, John Ritter died of a congenital heart defect and the film is dedicated to him. And in 2008 Bernie Mac died of pneumonia related complications. Watching the film again, you can’t help but feel a little depressed whenever they’re on-screen. Ritter in particular is hilarious when trying to define the label for little people. Special mention must go to Brett Kelly as Thurman. I have no idea what planet this tubby little pod person hails from, but he creates one of the most unique child characters I’ve seen. It’s debatable whether Thurman knows more than he let’s on, but watching him ingratiate himself into Willie’s life, and manipulate him into being some sort of father figure is nothing short of hilarious.
Bad Santa is a departure of sorts for director Terry Zwigoff. Although his other films are technically comedies, they are more dramedies than anything else. None reach anywhere near the absurdist hilarity of this one. His direction shows a deft comic touch right from the start, with the opening credits finishing on the image of Santa stumbling out of a bar and spewing in an alley. The writing by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, and an uncredited Joel and Ethan Coen, is brilliant. Like all classic comedies, this one is endlessly quotable. My favourite line is, when a kid tells him what he wants for Christmas, Willie replies “Well wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first.”
I don’t think this film is for everyone. It’s not for the faint of heart. It doesn’t pull it’s punches, it actually swings for the fence, and fully embraces it’s anarchic character. Willie is such a loathsome character that some will find it difficult to enjoy. But who cares what they think. In a decade of less than memorable comedies, Bad Santa stands out as one of the best.