Written by Scott Clifford
Bad Santa is one of the best dark comedies from the early 2000s and is a refreshing change of pace from the average happy-go-lucky Christmas film.
The premise is about an alcoholic named Willie who dresses up as Santa Claus (Billy Bob Thorton) along with his partner Marcus (Tony Cox), a midget who dresses up as an elf, in order to rob the safes of department stores at the end of the holiday season. As Willie’s alcoholism gets worse, he finds himself taking advantage of the naivete of a child named Thurman (Brett Kelly) by staying at his house in order to hide from law enforcement. Thurman’s blatant mental issues that have occurred due to the lack of a stable family life perfectly supplement Willie’s dysfunctional life and give a heart to what is a very dark film. By the time the resolution comes around, Willie barely redeems himself by getting Thurman the pink elephant that he always wanted after Marcus betrays him and a bunch of cops gun him down for trying to steal from the department store.
In a funny epilogue, it turns out that Willie will live anyway even though his liver is irreparably damaged due to his alcoholism. Additional performances from the late Bernie Mac (who plays a man who discovers the thieves’ scam and tried to take advantage of them), the late John Ritter (who plays a store employee who is unsure of Willie’s behavior while working), and Lauren Graham (a bartender who falls for Wilie) help raise the film to a level that it probably doesn’t deserve. All in all, Bad Santa may not be everyone but everyone should watch it.
The witty dialogue will keep you glued to your seat and laughing at situations that are heartbreaking on paper. Uncredited re-writes from Joel and Ethan Coen are probably the reason for this. They produced the film and helped director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World) punch up the script during production. It’s hard to pull off a scene where a child explains to a drunk Santa Claus that he was beaten by his father due to going to the bathroom on his mom’s dishes and then have that same Santa Claus explain that his father beat him by shoving lit cigarettes on his neck but this film does it with relish. However there are times where even I can see that this film may go too far for some people. The language used throughout the film may be a bit much for some viewers but I feel that the despicable characters in the film and the situations they get into justifies it.
If I could somehow go back in time and get hired to help write the script, I would focus on Lauren Graham’s character. Graham is a fantastic actress whose character is blatantly thrown in for a lazy romantic plotline. She likes Willie for no reason other then the fact that he shows up and she stays with him even though everything around him is so terrible and wrong that it’s mind-boggling. This is in stark contrast to Tony Cox’s character who is well-developed and shows a man who is adapting to the stereotypes that affect people with his condition in a way that he can live with. Maybe I’m being too harsh about the arbitrary romance plot but I just feel that there were enough creative minds in production that could’ve made it better.
All in all, Bad Santa did make me cry a few times from laughter and I wished that more films would be as bold as this one. As of right now it’s on Netflix Instant Watch so stream it or go hang out with a friend who as a Netflix account and watch it with them.