Confession: I’m a devout Christian and my favorite Christmas movie is “Bad Santa.”
This profane, wickedly and wincingly funny dark comedy captures the essence of the Christmas message better than any I know.
Before you watch the 2003 cult classic know there are roughly two f-bombs for every non-swear word in the script. Sex, drunkenness and violence, though curiously no nudity, make this film adults-only entertainment.
Let’s put it this way. If they attempted to make a made-for-television version of “Bad Santa” it would be eight minutes long. Watch it when the kids are in bed.
So how bad is the titular bad Santa? Willie is a lecherous, utterly dissipated, perpetually wasted and nasty safe-cracking thief. You can almost smell the booze, puke and self-loathing through the screen thanks to Billy Bob Thornton’s visceral portrayal.
Willie’s partner in crime, Marcus (Tony Cox), is the brains of the operation—their annual department store heist. The all-star cast also features Lauren Graham of “Gilmore Girls” fame playing the lovable bartender with a thing for guys in Santa suits.
FAST FACT: “Bad Santa” earned $60 million at the U.S. box office in 2003. The film’s belated sequel, 2016’s “Bad Santa 2,” couldn’t bank on the original’s cult status, generating just $17 million.
John Ritter co-stars as the priggish manager opposite Bernie Mac, the shady chain-smoking store security supervisor. Octavia Spencer and Alex Borstein both have cameos. The role of the pudgy, awkward boy Thurman Merman is played brilliantly by 10-year-old Canadian actor Brett Kelly.
Not surprisingly, the film’s executive producers were the Coen brothers, masters of making ingenious dark comedies about good and evil.
Without giving too much away, the plot rolls like this: while pulling off their yearly department store Christmas robbery, Willie is befriended by a kid. The kid loves Willie despite Willie’s being utterly and completely unlovable.
Over the course of the film, that unmerited love transforms Willie into a slightly better person, not a saint, but a man capable of returning that love.
Love precedes transformation.
In the Biblical Christmas story, God loves his creation so much that he breaks through time and space to walk among us, to teach us, to love us even unto death and to bring us hope of a new life. Love transforms us. I see its power in my own life. Even when I despised Him, Jesus loved me and that love broke through my anger and hopelessness.
My other Christmas favorites, “A Christmas Story,” “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Die Hard” (yes, it’s a Christmas film), are beautiful, endearing or just fun. None portrays the Christmas message of transformational love and redemption like “Bad Santa.”