Bad habits, bad manners, bad attitude. Billy Bob Thornton is the Bad Santa in this hilarious movie produced and devised by the Coen Brothers.
Well, we’re firmly into December now, the advent calendars are already looking well and truly eaten into and the holiday season is about to commence, and so I thought it would be a great time to revisit one of my favourite festive films Billy Bob Thornton in the hilarious Bad Santa (2003).
The movie starts with a sweeping shot of a warm bar, men in suits celebrating the festive season – and then, perched at the end is Willie – Billy Bob Thornton – a down and out drunk, slumped in a Santa outfit. Within minutes, we are shown the first of numerous and hilarious scenarios that we should never see Santa in – a snowy alleyway, and Santa crouching against the wall vomiting into a gutter as the title fades onto the screen. (Spoiler alert: Towards the end of the movie, as the film winds to a close we see another scenario we should never have to see Santa submitted too, as he is gunned down by police, in front of children.)
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Obviously, Willie isn’t Santa, but part of a criminal double act, who take on the task of becoming a mall Santa with the soul reason of emptying it of its seasonal takings. His partner in crime is the miniature Marcus, played by Tony Cox. He is the brains behind the operation, and the sensible one of the two. Willie is on a hedonistic streak of self-destruction, drinking and screwing around, and Marcus’s constant judgment is futile, yet uproarious.
Thornton is great in the role, as he very often is. Here, he plays the part with a tired and emotionless face, almost like Bill Murray in Lost In Translation, but with a more menacing zeal to it. His outbursts to the children, and parents of the store are always damning, and would be enough to get any Santa fired, but when the Elf is a real midget, this duo are hard to get rid of. They use the height of this dwarf as discriminative leverage and have the store manager bent over a barrel with the authentic little elf, but when threatened with dismissal they play the discrimination card.
The role of the store manager, Bob Chipeska, was played by John Ritter, who sadly died suddenly before the film was released. The film is dedicated to him. His performance in it was amazing, and one of the highlights of the movie as the soft manager. He sweats under the collar at bad language, cringes at sexual references and silently pronounces or spells out any obscenities he is forced to report. The scenes where he is complaining to the stores detective, played by Bernie Mac, are fantastic, especially as Mac is as crude and vulgar as the Santa himself, and Ritter grimaces to nearly everything that Mac says.
The cast is brilliant, and all the performances bring their own elements of comedy to the screen, but the highlight of the film for me is the interaction between Billy Bob Thornton, and The Kid. The Kid is a strange, simple minded, overweight child living alone with his grandmother, who is less compos mentis than the child. Willie ends up crashing at this boys house when his apartment is raided by who he assumes to be police. The Kid believes he has the real Santa living at his house and bombards him with endless questions, following him around everywhere he goes and driving Thornton insane.
Of course eventually he softens to the boy, and becomes this twisted guardian angel to the child, and along with Grandma, The Kid and the sexy barmaid, Sue, who has a kinky fetish for laying Santa, Willie soon becomes part of a strange family, and his character is eventually set on the slow repair of his own inner conflict, somehow maintaining the themes often found in the generic structure of the festive film, but never truly pampering to it or losing its own edge in the process.
The movie for me sags a little when centered around the robbery. This plot line only acts as a frame work for the concept of having a Bad Santa, and detracts ever so slightly from the hysterical comedy of the movie. The harsh and very often violent and brutal comedy is made even funnier for being set to joyous and instantly recognizable classical music, and with hilarious and crude lines throughout from all characters, this movie is a dark and twisted festive laugh riot and one that I’m sure will be on at some point over the holidays. Perfect alternative Christmas viewing for all those Scrooges out there.