Friday, November 06, 2009

Bad Santa

go read the rest of Spectrum Culture's review of the best films of the decade at spectrumculture.com

Few movies have managed to turn a tried-and-true genre on its head as irreverently and successfully as Bad Santa. The 2003 comedy is everything that It's A Wonderful Life and other maudlin, sentimental holiday drivel is not: unrepentantly crude, excessively lewd and cynical even as it embraces, however slightly, a bit of yuletide optimism. Along the way there are countless other incidents to remind viewers that this isn't your mother's Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie and that Clarence sure as hell won't be getting his wings: anal sex, a suicide attempt, murder, attempted murder, massive amounts of greed - among other vices - and copious amounts of unique and colorful profanity.

The main character - the perpetually drunk and horny con artist/thief Willie Stokes, played with convincing lasciviousness by Billy Bob Thornton - subverts the popular depiction of the everyman hero that has defined most holiday films. While almost every other such character has a flaw or two, Willie's are magnified to the point of comedic excess: his gig as a mall Santa is punctuated by drunken violent outbursts (on one occasion he waylays a reindeer display), blatant ogling of the mall's female customers, one self-pissing incident and a nihilistic streak that lessens but never really goes away.

Any concessions to the Christmas spirit come with perverse and violent twists. As the movie unfolds we see through several simple acts of kindness that, underneath the crusty, booze-soaked exterior, Willie just may be a caring person after all: he teaches The Kid (later revealed to have the unfortunate name Thurman Merman) how to defend himself by beating the tar out of a bully, while his relationship with bartender Sue progresses from him grabbing her ass as she hangs up ornaments to one of home-cooked meals and other trappings of domestic bliss. Hell, he even takes a hail of gunfire from the Phoenix Police Department as he delivers a stolen stuffed pink elephant to the boy's home, risking his life to fulfill Thurman's somewhat bizarre Christmas wish.

As the Christmas season seems to start earlier each year - my local Target broke out the decorations, artificial trees and obnoxious ornaments in early September - Bad Santa speaks to the dread and pessimism countless people feel as Christmas consumes various aspects of daily life. For such contemporary viewers the film is both hilarious and sobering: it's easy to see something of ourselves in both Willie's boorish behavior and his eventual redemption. While most Americans have been raised on a steady diet of innocuous and inane holiday movies, Bad Santa shows that films from this genre can be vulgar and obnoxious without resorting to overly emotional characters and weepy holiday sentiments. - Eric Dennis

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