This week’s DGO is rather Christmassy (if you haven’t noticed), so it’s only appropriate that I recommend a holiday film. But don’t get your childish hopes up about some family favorite like “Elf” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “Bad Santa” is a black comedy directed by Terry Zwigoff (who also did “Ghost World”) and it’s raunchy, rude, and mean-spirited – until it isn’t.
Billy Bob Thornton stars as Willie, an alcoholic who makes money as a traveling mall Santa. Willie and his sidekick, a sly dwarf who dresses up as his elf, rob malls after their tenure is up, and they’ve never been caught (yet).
It’s nice to watch a Christmas film that’s not all sweetness and light. This one doesn’t shield you from the harsh glare of working-class woes. Willie hates his job and his life, drinking to excess to tune out the noise and busting into safes so he need not commit to a real job. In a classic vicious cycle, Willie once had an abusive father, and now he lashes out at everyone around him.
What tears a person from such a cycle? Often it’s meeting someone who worms their way in and tweaks it ever so slightly. Willie happens upon a sweet chubby kid who perpetually has snot running down his nose (his name is Thurman, but Willie calls him “the kid”) and they begin to form a bond. The kid has no parents and doesn’t mind Santa’s constant cursing and bad behavior. He likes Willie just the way he is. So does Sue, a hot bartender played by Lauren Graham (a role as far from “Gilmore Girls” as you could get), who famously moans “[bleep] me Santa!” whenever they make love.
This movie is gross. There’s bathroom humor and far too much swearing. But it builds to a climax that is unexpectedly moving. The kid manages to change Willie’s cynical ways a little, as does Sue. Not all the way, of course – because that wouldn’t be realistic.
Note: This review is not in any way affiliated with “Bad Santa 2,” a film I understand to be a terrible sequel, to be avoided at all costs.
— Anya Jaremko-Greenwold