Bad Santa, written by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, Joel and Ethan Coen
Nine out of 10
Part of the reason for the success of this comedy drama is that the main character is such a complex figure, played with aplomb and extraordinary talent by Billy Bob Thornton, a tormented, apparently depressed, bored, often vicious, foul mouthed, amusing, careless, quite obnoxious, philandering, at times charming, indifferent man that might overcome his ennui when he is involved in crime, but eventually, if he does not have an epiphany, at the very least maybe he would become a better man…Insha’Allah.
Willie aka Billy Bob Thornton likes to dress as Santa for the holidays, but not because he is so keen on talking to children and bringing them joy – on the contrary, when he is not annoyed, he can be quite abusive in language and much of the humor is dark, for instance, when a child says that he has seen him in another mall, the antihero retorts ‘good for you’ and then adds for good measure ‘let me show you some magic and see you disappear’ pushing him away.
Bad Santa uses his cover, with his very short – one wonders what the politically correct term would be here…perhaps vertically challenged? – partner, Marcus aka Tony Cox, seen before in Seinfeld, to rob the malls in which they work, and where Marcus is the elf and has a list of what to steal from his girlfriend, Lois.
Willie seems to be a determined alcoholic, when he steps out of the BMW taken from the house of The kid, perhaps a dozen bottles fall to the ground and then the apparently always inebriated antihero drives over them, smashing glass in the parking lot and another time, he just throws the bottle he drinks from onto the windshield of an SUV Mercedes as another proof that this man does not care.
Indeed, it is often more than surprising to see how far this troubled personality can swing in one direction, showing a deeply sad, haunted and disabused man, then in the other and have him engaged in sex in the changing room for the tall and large – vocalizing and stating that ‘you won’t be able to shit proper for a month’ – or in the car, with Sue aka charming Lauren Graham, the bartender who has a penchant for Santas, because as the daughter of a Jewish man, they have not celebrated Christmas and apparently this was a sort of a forbidden thing.
When Bad Santa has coitus within the premises of the department store, the manager, Bob Chipeska, is aggravated and summons Willie and the elf to his office to announce that the ‘fornication’ would be punished and the culprit laid off, only to have the vehement antihero use – somewhat like the other ‘hero’ from American Beauty – the card of the abuse, threatening that the dismissal would bring a few dozen protestors in front of the office.
He makes it about Marcus, his height and race, for he is African American and the confused and now scared manager talks nonsense with ‘you people’ and gradually understands that he would not win this game and the issue now is how to limit the potential damage and therefore he backs off, but would address the problem through Gin.
The regretted, wonderful Bernie Mac plays Gin, who appears to be in charge of the security of the department store, or perhaps the much bigger mall, but he works more like a ‘fixer’ – probably in charge of much smaller con jobs than Cohen executed for the Master Con Man, Orange, Stupid Trump – and he explains to his boss that every man has issues and he would find whatever Bad Santa has in his past, parking tickets, anything, and he would make him pay for it.
However, when he looks at the two characters, he finds that they had been involved in intense criminal activity, as we have seen, when the dressing up job would be finished, they would disarm the alarm, Willie would break into the safe and they had done that in many places and now Gin is impressed, but he wants a cut…a big cut from the next job, no less than fifty percent, in spite of the protestations of the partners, who point out that there are two of them and it should be 33%.
This is obviously not about karma, but this greed might nevertheless come back to haunt Gin, when Marcus would really get tough on the matter, but until then, they are blackmailed and have to at least pretend to accept the conditions, while Bad Santa has met with The Kid, a boy that is abused by older colleagues, until the antihero would put his foot down, and to begin with, he seems to annoy Willie beyond endurance, but causing some of the most hilarious exchanges in the film…when The Kid insists on knowing about the elves, the names, the consort, the former convict replies with careless, serene obscenities or vulgar implications
Fuck…he is with Mrs. Santa’s sister, has no idea about the names of the reindeer…who cares, who gives a damn.
Gradually however, he may come to feel pity for the Kid who lives with grandma, who is absent from this world due to some ailment, Alzheimer or who knows what, has no parents, is attacked by others and desperately needs attention, affection…and then this weak feeling might develop into empathy – Milan Kundera explains in one of his major books, perhaps The Unbearable Lightness of Being, that we feel pity for someone we feel is inferior to some degree, while empathy is reserved for those who are on the same level…