Wed November 26, 2003
"Bad Santa" is the baddest satire of the Christmas spirit you will ever see.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"Bad Santa" is the baddest satire of the Christmas spirit you will ever see. In contrast, visit "Love Actually" for a standard and amiable tribute to the spirit of love we all cling to at that season. "Santa" stars Billy Bob Thornton as a dissolute, drunken, foul-mouthed, cynical thief who gains entrance to store safes by playing Santa with his little-person cohort played by Tony Cox.
This blackest of comedies is produced by the irreverent Coen brothers and directed by Terry Zwigoff of the eccentric "Crumb" and "Ghost World" films. I can envision all three very imaginative filmmakers sitting around to devise the most sardonic, iconoclastic Christmas movie ever to hit the mainstream. And the nihilistic undertone comes not from the endless epithets and constant drunkenness but from the relentless denigration of Christmas ritual such as the benign store-Santa motif to the spirit of humbug as a disgust of children and their acquisitive mood in December.
The film is funny because Santa swears at kids on his knee, urinates in his suit, calls a fat child a "loser," and says unprintable things to his small partner. All of it is so politically incorrect as to be unusually amusing. Yet the film is also insulting to kids, dwarfs, and parents. The relentless swearing and rudeness will surely keep away discerning audiences and Christians and be embraced by a minority of eccentrics who love the rules broken by as much humiliation as possible, as when Billy Bob talks about a new beginning for himself after beating up a bully a quarter his age.
The Internet Movie Data Base reports the film enraged Disney management (Distributor is an offshoot of Disney's Miramax Films) because of its alcoholic, sex-crazed, swearing Santa. A source at Disney said, "Nothing appears sacred anymore. This is not in the spirit of Walt Disney." But it sure is in the spirit of the Coens. I'm surprised management didn't figure that out early on, or maybe they did and hoped that many misanthropes would pay to see Santa pee.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm.