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When I first learned that Bad Santa was produced by the Coen Brothers, and directed by Terry Zwigoff, my exact thoughts were, "This could be a great movie as long as it doesn't end with all the characters learning the true meaning of Christmas."
Well, my cynical friends, let nothing you dismay. The more you hate Christmas, the more you will enjoy this film.
From the opening sequence where our anti-hero Willie pisses himself while posing as Old St. Nick, it is quite clear that Bad Santa has more in common with Shakes the Clown than Elf. At one point, after a young boy describes his hopes for a Christmas gift, Willie advises the child to "wish in one hand and s#*t in the other and see which one fills up first." Rare moments where Bad Santa tries to show a little compassion are bracketed by alcohol abuse, swearing and generally crude behavior.
There are people who are going to loathe this film. They will say it's mean, it's unrealistic, and none of the characters are the kind you'd want to spend the holidays with. Finally, a film for the rest of us!
The official plot goes something like this:
Willie and his partner Marcus go to a different department store each year and run the same scam. Willie is Santa, Marcus is the elf, and on Christmas Eve they rob the store where they work and skip town.
What Bad Santa is really about is the dark underbelly of Christmas. Where the children are heinous succubae and the holiday itself is merely a front for glutinous consumerism and making those who "have not" feel like hopeless losers. I really admire the filmmakers for having the gall to take this film to eleven. Not only is Willie a Bad Santa, he's a child-hating drunk and Billy Bob Thorton's brings him to the screen like a house on fire. The man shows no restraint whatsoever and delivers venomous dialogue to child after child without even flinching.
What about the parents in the film, don't they complain? Why doesn't someone fire this crude and repellent man or throw him in jail? Well, this is the biggest problem with the film: it's not even close to realistic, but what Christmas film is? To enjoy Bad Santa the way it was meant to be enjoyed, you just have to check your instinct to nitpick at the door.
The Coen touch is barely evident in Bad Santa, and aside from a general negativity and use of background jokes, the film is not trademark Zwigoff either. No, the credit for Bad Santa really goes to the screenwriting duo who, previous to Bad Santa penned the kids' flick Cats & Dogs. I wonder if they had a little steam to let off.
The fat kid in Bad Santa is like no kid we've ever seen before. He's epically pathetic. He's fat, he's snot-encrusted and he actually believes that Willie is Santa. The kid relentlessly questions Willie about the North Pole and when he receives only verbal abuse in response, his first instinct is to offer Willie some sandwiches. It's genius!
Bernie Mac's role as the mall security chief is smaller than the trailer would have you believe. The actual size and scope of Mac's role in Bad Santa was comparable to that of his Bosley in Charlie's Angels only with more swearing, although Mac's verbal throw down with Marcus is one of the highlights of the film.
Bad Santa is the kind of film that only appeals to a select segment of the population, but it does it in a big way. If you hate the holidays, children and smarminess, pack your flask and head to the theater NOW to see Bad Santa.
-Megan A. Denny (born December 25th,1979)