Bad Santa (2003) review

Bad Santa (2003) review

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Not your typical Santa.
Not your typical Santa.

Twitter Plot Summary: Billy Bob Thornton is a Bad Santa. Plus there is a fat kid. And… scene.

When you think about Christmas movies, it’s rare that they break from a very specific formula. The majority are family friendly, ideal fodder for early afternoon screenings over the Christmas season. For this reason it’s all the more notable when we get a film that breaks from that formula and does its own thing. Bad Santa is one such movie. It might be set in the festive period but it’s definitely not your typical feel good Christmas story.

Billy Bob Thornton is Willie, a career criminal who robs department stores over Christmas while working as their Santa Claus. He is aided by Tony Cox as Marcus, under cover as one of Santa’s elves – albeit one with fake elf ears that are the wrong skin colour. Willie is a man who is clearly not suited for working with children due to him being almost permanently drunk and having an uncontrollable potty mouth. Yet he seems unable to break from a recurring cycle of robbing department stores, playing a terrible department store Santa, and yearning for a better life. It just so happens that on this one job he meets a strange kid, an attractive woman who works in a bar and has a Santa Claus fetish, and in both of these people spots a potential reason for breaking the cycle.

Meanwhile Willie worms his way into some free accommodation with a kid who lives with his grandma – his father is in prison and his mother has long since passed away. The kid, played with gormless naivety by Brett Kelly, thinks Willie is the real Santa Claus and is more than happy for him to move in.

"You are extremely rotund. And ginger."
“You are extremely rotund. And ginger.”

If the fact Willie drinks and swears a lot wasn’t a clue, this is not a family friendly film. In fact it’s filled with adult themes, including but not limited to frequent scenes of sex and violence. This is most definitely in its favour as those moments, carried by Thornton’s sardonic attitude, make much more of what would otherwise be a poor film. Its success stems from its focus on some truly flawed and/or damaged characters and throwing them all together into the maelstrom that is the festive season. Almost everyone with a speaking role fits into that category, be it Willie (obviously), the kid, the girl who has the Santa fetish, the store detective (Bernie Mac) who blackmails the group when he uncovers their scheme – the list goes on.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Christmas story without some form of redemption taking place, and that is where Willie comes into his own, helping the kid and realising there’s a way to deal with bullies and to make your own way in the world, a lesson which even an adult audience can appreciate. And that is perhaps the best thing to take away from this film: even if you’re jaded with the whole Christmas thing and couldn’t care less about much of the festive season, there are still positives to take away from it if you look hard enough.

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Bad Santa
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