The Set of 400: #194 – My Favorite Pink Elephant

Today! Because your soul is dog shit. Every single fucking thing about you is ugly –

Bad Santa (2003)

Directed by Terry Zwigoff

Starring Billy Bob Thornton (x2), Tony Cox (x2), Lauren Graham (x2), Bernie Mac (x2), John Ritter, Cloris Leachman (x2), Brett Kelly, Ajay Naidu, Alex Borstein, Billy Gardell, Bryan Callen (x2), Tom McGowan, Octavia Spencer (x3), Matt Walsh (x6)

A bit of the shimmering, yuletide luster of Bad Santa has worn off over the years, I’ll admit. While Billy Bob Thornton was always a fair bet to effectively embody a comic asshole prior to this, he made it his stock in trade for some years to come afterward, knocking the novelty off this film ever so much. Bad News Bears, School for Scoundrels, Mr. Woodcock – it would take a bit for Thornton to get back to portraying wise, snide hillbillies again. And I’ll admit – I’ve never seen Bad Santa 2. I know! The original is in the top 200, and I just never got around to the sequel. How the hell does he team back up with Marcus, after what happened in the first movie? That idea alone put me off bothering to watch it. But hey, someday. Maybe by the time you’re reading this, who knows?

Seriously, just how does this happen?

Bad Santa still holds up fairly well as the inappropriate, gross-out, max-vulgarity comedy it was intended to be, with all the child abuse, daddy issues, dressing room sex, alcoholism, and dwarf violence you remember. Thornton is terrific, but it’s the supporting cast that keeps this thing strong after all these years. Tony Cox’s devious Marcus – Billy Bob’s Willie’s sidekick in department store Santa scheming – is the brains of the outfit, and balances Willie’s horrible tendencies and crudeness with a solid give-and-take attitude, never overpowered by all the fireworks of Thornton’s performance. Lauren Graham, Bernie Mac, and John Ritter are equally game, parrying with Willie and Marcus as they run another year of their epic scam.

But the film’s MVP – almost without question – without whom there would be no center or heart in an otherwise cruel set-up, is Brett Kelly’s sad sack Kid – later discovered to be named Thurman Merman – who is willingly duped into allowing Willie to crash at his out-of-town parents’ house. He’s a blank slate – clearly cast for his jovial, pleasant look more than his acting – but he provides an impetus for all the character transformation and untangling of the nefarious plots at work. Plus, he’s funny no matter what he says or what he’s doing. Thurman Merman!

Plus he was Johnny-on-the-Spot with those sandwiches!

But yeah, I get that this movie isn’t for everybody. It is excessive in almost every comedic way – loud, crass, violent, mean-spirited, grotesque, and very lewd. And if you don’t buy the ending, it must be exponentially worse. This brand of psychotic, sociopathic central figure character comedy became really popular in the ’00s – it was around before that, but rarely as widespread or extreme. Bad Teacher, Observe and Report, Horrible Bosses, Ted, Trainwreck, Due Date – I’m not saying this movie launched this brand, but it sure seemed to make it more accessible in a general way. And hell, I like it. So long as it’s not too cruel in the end – a lot can get excused away by a neat little character arc toward the good – I can enjoy aggressive self-centered comedy for the vicious insult-fest it is.

And he beats the shit out of some jerk teenagers!

Thornton was nominated for a Comedy/Musical Golden Globe, but the movie received little else by way of awards. You’re telling me that there wasn’t hardware left over to hand out a Best Bloody Wooden Pickle statuette? Come on!

Bunch of new Two-Timers, but the only advancing actors we’ve got both appear in fairly minor parts – Oscar winner Octavia Spencer goes to the Threes, after equally quick roles in #248 Being John Malkovich and #381 Spider-Man, while UCB legend Matt Walsh becomes only the fourth member of the Six-Timers club so far, after appearing in #322 Role Models, #377 I Love You, Man, #204 Semi-Pro, #348 Road Trip, and #225 Old School. Makes sense, with all the ’00 era comedies that made their way onto the list! Spotlight!

He’s also great beyond words as the hapless Mike McLintock on Veep

Coming Monday! He thought that every windmill was a giant. That’s insane. But, thinking that they might be, well…

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