There are several great Christmas traditions that I refuse to surrender despite being a jaded, cynical atheist. I still give gifts to family and friends, I still buy a real Christmas tree and decorate it, and still I watch Bad Santa every year.
If you have not seen it, do so; you won’t be sorry. The 2003 movie stars Billy Bob Thorton as a thief who works as a department store Santa in order to gain easier access to the safe. You could argue that the movie is dated on that count—the most successful retail thieves these days do their work from laptops and the prevalence of credit and debit cards means store safes don’t hold as much cash as they used to—but that’s a minor point that will not detract from the movie.
Thorton is genius as the hard-drinking, serial-fornicating, foul-mouthed career criminal. The cast also includes John Ritter (RIP), Bernie Mac (RIP), Lauren Graham, Tony Cox and Ajay Naidu of Office Space fame as a “Hindustani Troublemaker.”
Bad Santa manages to both piss on the fraudulent cheer that comprises so much of what passes for holiday spirit while still offering a tale of redemption. His sneering delivery and drunken slurs give the holiday season the violent kick in the groin it rightfully deserves. He exudes contempt for the pampered children and jabbering housewives that expect him to be at their beck and call. He’s a champion to anyone who has ever had to work at a department store at Christmas time (I have; it sucks). He is a hardened predator among easy prey, a prisoner to his criminal profession, but willing to commit to violent street justice without hesitation to help his bullied host.
Cinema has given us no better Christmas hero than Billy Bob Thorton’s Willie.
Willie represents our great unbridled American spirit, unashamed to fornicate with strangers in department store changing rooms and tell shoppers to shove their holiday cheer right up their plus-sized asses.
I saw Bad Santa in the theater reluctantly the year it came out. The TV commercials didn’t make it look very good and I didn’t need another silly holiday comedy. But the movie won me over before the opening credits were through. I was blown away by the excellence of the film. It is at the same time incredibly depraved and inspiring. No other movie better captured the dual hatred and love we often feel towards the holidays.
The forced cheerfulness, the clueless do-gooder religious bleating, the consumerist fervor and the crowded conditions of our roads, trains and stores make all thinking men want to shit on the holidays with fiendish enthusiasm. Yet the undercurrent of holiday cheer is appealing. It is the end of the year harvest festival of the Roman Saturnalia, though colored by the pasted-on veneer of Christian myth. The silver lining to Christmas is that it promotes traditions that help strengthen the family, and it gets you gifts.
It’s for this reason that the next Christmas season I began a tradition of having a holiday party with watching Bad Santa the centerpiece of the event. This past weekend was no different, though many of my friends have now seen the move so many times that they didn’t pay as much attention to the movie, but it never fails to entertain.
If you’re going to watch a special movie for the holidays, there are many to choose from. Watch Bad Santa. It’s a holiday tradition you will want to continue.