The anti-Christmas movie is a tradition as old as the regular Christmas movie. It’s a film that exists to skewer or just add a sardonic glaze to the relentlessly peppy, often obnoxious joy and cheer of the winter holiday. “A Christmas Story,” “Scrooged” and even “Elf” fit this mold, movies that recognize the charm and wisdom of Christmas, but do their best to poke fun at it.
But “Bad Santa,” while marketing itself as an anti-Christmas movie, is something else entirely. It’s a standard Christmas movie that pretends to be an anti-Christmas movie. It thinks its like Santa Claus after going broke on a bender in Reno, but is much more lik like the low level hitman who spends his off-hours serving the homeless at the local soup kitchen.
The anti-ness of the film stems directly from Billy Bob Thornton’s character Willie, a mall Santa who wasn’t able to bloat his stomach so he bloated his liver instead. You can smell his stench a mile away, a mixture of stale beer and self-hatred. He’s on the wrong side of 50 and definitely has less than that in his bank account.
But, warts and all, Willie actually is a heroic character. He has dreams of improving his life and situation, he creates a mini, non-nuclear family while in Phoenix, and even though he is a criminal and a morally-repugnant person in general, he grows to make capable, wise decisions at the end of the day. Willie serves as a hope that even the most damaged and destructive members of our society may find themselves, but we hope it’s not at our local mall.
The film though is based on an inherent flaw, that any mall, in any city, would even think about hiring Willie or Marcus, played by Tony Cox, as performers for Santa’s village. It also lets Willie and Marcus get away for too long without having any sense of social decency or children for that matter. It’s also hard to believe that Bernie Mac’s character would even work at a mall in the first place, a man of his gusto and swagger is more prime to own his own small business than manage the facility that houses so many others.
Still, “Bad Santa” is a worthy, funny gem in spite of these flaws. No line is immediately quotable or memorable, save for maybe “you’re not going to shit right for a week.” But it’s a worthy film none-the-less, a gentle breeze of holiday storytelling. “Bad Santa’s” good mantra is most close to the three wise men being allowed to stay with Mary on Jesus’ birth, crafting an unconventional family of sorts to celebrate the holiday with.
We see Willie do this in the film with Sue, Lauren Graham’s character, and the young blonde boy whom he lives with. It’s a stretch to say any of its characters are wise, but “Bad Santa’s” allusions to the Christian nature of loving your neighbor, no matter how alcoholic or foul-mouthed they may be, are smarter than we think.