Bad Santa (15)

Dec 14, 2005
Cranbrook Film Society

Let’s talk about swearing first. This film has more expletives than all previous Christmas films combined. But that shouldn’t be a problem as the only people who don’t swear are those who don’t seem to notice it when others do and certainly not those who complain about it who always are secret swearers themselves, and add hypocrisy to a judgemental attitude. Bad Santa himself, in contrast, is never a hypocrite but is guilty of just about every other sin he can think of.

Brilliantly played by Billy Bob Thornton, Bad Santa, or Willie T. Soke, has formed an annual ‘working’ relationship with a poisonous, pathological elf played with venomous relish by Marcus Cox. Thoroughly disliking each other their double act nonetheless enables them to steal other people’s money at Christmas and live off it for the rest of the year. Willie spends it on women, drink and more drink, spending on anything else, as George Best would have said, was just wasted. Willie is a depressed, bedraggled foul mouthed disgrace and in any of this Santa’s encounters with children it’s always fifty fifty who will throw up on whom first.

When a ‘love interest’ does, rather surprisingly, turn up for Willie, it makes perfect sense in this film that her interest is, at least at first, of a purely fetishistic nature…and some of the language really is blistering. The film, like Willie nonchalantly throwing the bunches of car keys he has just stolen around the car park, is absolutely shameless about and committed to its foul language allowing it all the demonic energy that ‘cursing’ can be given. However, it is certainly no more disgusting than Shakespeare’s many jokes about venereal disease, nor more outrageous than the kind of arse kissing that goes on in Chaucer’s tales and it seems to me, is infinitely preferable to the introduction of belching and farting jokes at every opportunity that mainstream Hollywood films like Shrek and Austin Powers constantly indulge in. Willie pissing himself is never going to be cute like Donkey burping.

So Bad Santa is a kind of test of taste. If you like your scatology whimsical Bad Santa won’t be for you, but if you like it true to just how uselessly irresponsible our body’s functions can often be you’ll find it very funny. As the critic Roger Ebert has put it rather neatly ‘a film is not about what it is about, but about how it is about it’.

The original idea for the film came from the Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel, who brought us ‘The Man who wasn’t there’, starring Billy Bob Thornton, part of our season a couple of years ago. The director Terry Zwigoff is previously known for the quirky ‘Ghost World’.

Terry Zwogoff | USA | 2004 | 91 minutes | 15