Some films are not what they seem or are hard to market or easily fit into a category. Some very good films that I would put in that category would be Monkeybone, The Guru, The Big Lebowski, Ghost World, and Bad Santa. The interesting thing is that the final three are all connected with The Big Lebowski written, directed and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen, Ghost World directed by Terry Zwigoff and Bad Santa executive produced with a premise from the Coen’s and directed by Zwigoff.
The challenge of the films that I have mentioned is that they are fairly unique in their approach, tone and subject matter and don’t lend themselves very well to a brief summary. Here’s my shot at a summary for Bad Santa — sort of like It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart never sobering up. Bad Santa is a profane and intentionally offensive film that actually has a semi-sweet centre. Billy Bob Thorton is a misanthropic alcoholic Santa (who really is a safecracker) who is teamed up with Tony Cox as an elf (who is really the brains behind the operation) who travel from town to town every Christmas robbing department stores on Christmas Eve. Thorton throws himself into the role and wallows in the filth with complications added by a misfit kid played by Brett Kelly and a bartender (who is really a Santa fetishist) played by Lauren Graham. The cast is amazing and Zwigoff stays true to the very dark tone throughout.
I laughed out loud a lot and in thinking about the film and the balance between comedy and pathos I still laugh about parts of the film. There is an odd and twisted moral message in the film that makes you smile, but it’s not a Hollywood ending. While the Bad Santa trailer is in Apple’s trailer section, the link to the official site goes to Miramax’s site because Dimension Films is a subsidiary of Miramax which is a subsidiary of Disney and there isn’t an official site for Bad Santa at all. Films like Bad Santa, The Guru, Ghost World and Monkeybone are completed, then marketed in a perfunctory fashion and then are released to video. What’s fascinating about Bad Santa is that after 2 weeks in release it is doing better than the latest Ron Howard film, The Missing, which had more publicity.
Zwigoff burst (well, maybe emerged is more appropriate) onto the scene with the documentary Crumb, about cartoonist R. Crumb. He moved into drama with the adaptation of Daniel Clowes’s comic book Ghost World. The final odd element in the whole equation of Bad Santa is the script written by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra who are the team who wrote the family comedy Cats & Dogs. It seems as if Bad Santa is the very dark comedic balance to the family comedy. Maybe the lack of promotion of the film is due to possible confusion and the potentially horrific accident of someone mistaking the film for a family comedy. But really, I think that it’s because the film takes a off-kilter point of view without condescending to the audience and it sticks with it all the way to the end of the line. I loved it!