Disgusting, raunchy, racy and dark are not adjectives usually associated with Christmas movies. In comes Bad Santa, the story of a disgruntled thief who makes a living by masquerading as Santa Claus moving from mall to mall around the country only to rob each mall come Christmas time. It’s a depressing story filled with drugs, sex, alcohol and murder, which is why it’s become one of my Christmas classics.
Once we trudge past its grimy exterior, we find film with a lot of heart and, yes, even Christmas spirit. Willie isn’t a bad guy. An alcoholic, resentment-filled, creepy old man sure, but not an inherently bad guy. In a fortuitous turn of events, Willie meets a lonely kid who’s obsessed with Santa Claus and decides to crash at his empty house – his dad is “on an adventure exploring mountains” (in jail) and his mother is “in God’s house with Jesus and Marry and the Ghost and the long-eared donkey and Joseph and the talking walnut” (dead). The dynamic between these two is hilarious, Willie being the mean old man stuck in his hatred of life and the kid being a hopeful, wide-eyed yet emotionless stalker who can’t take the hint that Willie really doesn’t want to talk to him. The kid is obsessed with the idea that Willie is actually Santa Claus and that if he’s good, he’ll finally get a Christmas present this year. Though Willie is short with the kid, often times blowing up in his face when he asks too many annoying questions, I think Willie sees the neglect he was dealt as a child in this kid and sympathizes with him.
Through the kid’s undying, unrelenting Christmas spirit, even in the face of his bleak existence, the kid manages to pester Willie enough to break him out of his selfish and self-destructive lifestyle. As Christmas Eve comes and the heist he and Marcus (the dwarf) planned goes awry, Willie manages to make it back to the kid’s house, even after being shot several times by police, to give him his only Christmas gift – a pink elephant.
I was lucky to have this movie in my life from an early age. I would even go as far as to say this movie helped insight a love of dark comedies in my young, 11-year-old head. At that point in my life, I was sick of the same old joyful Christmas movies we got each year where everything was pristine and the setting always a winter wonderland. I’m unsure what that says about me as a little kid. I think I turned out alright…