review for Bad Santa on AllMovie

Bad Santa (2003)
by Perry Seibert review

Terry Zwigoff's fearlessly vulgar Bad Santa produces big laughs from some of the most repulsive behavior ever put on screen. At the center of it all is Billy Bob Thornton as alcoholic thief and department-store Santa Willie T. Stokes, giving a performance so lacking in vanity that his every gesture, glance, and remark are foul, wretched, and toxic. Arguably the funniest performance of his career, Thornton is matched by a game cast that never shrinks from his undiluted misanthropy and self-hatred. Lauren Graham gives such an open, self-knowing performance that she not only makes her character's attraction to Stokes believable, but actually makes him more attractive to the audience as well. Tony Cox and Bernie Mac match Willie's self-interest and provide a worthy partner and adversary for him. The script, which originated with Joel and Ethan Coen, sets out to offend and succeeds -- but like with all great vulgar comedies, the audience laughs as it is repulsed because the behavior is rooted in the characters. Some may be turned off when Willie delivers a profanity laced tirade at (not in front of but "at") the young boy who simply wants to be friends with Santa, but many in the audience will recognize that Thornton is simply (if shockingly) bringing the spirit of W.C. Fields into the 21st century.