Christmas Can Be Cool – Bad Santa

7 Dec

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I was fourteen years old the first time I saw the Terry Zwigoff-directed, Coen Brothers-produced Bad Santa, and I disliked it so much I didn’t even finish it. It wasn’t the irreverence that bothered me (although I didn’t go in for that kind of thing the way teenagers typically do) – it was just that Billy Bob Thornton’s Willie T. Stokes was such a jerk. Why bother with a character beyond redemption? I didn’t understand. A year or so later, I fell in love with Zwigoff’s adaptation of Ghost World and then, a little after that, the entirety of the Coens’ output. I realized I needed to give Bad Santa another shot. So I did, appreciating it a lot more the second time around. The film is crude, hysterical, hard-hitting, and a little depressing, with no Apatowian sweetness to smooth out the rough edges. Zwigoff serves what little sentimentality he has to offer in extremely small doses, which in turn makes it all the more effective. I’m still repulsed by Willie T. Stokes, but that’s largely the point; Zwigoff is simply not interested in the “lovable old drunk with a heart of gold” archetype. Is Stokes beyond redemption? Maybe. But after all, it is Christmas…

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