The new holiday documentary “Becoming Santa” follows this annual Tradition of Wrong with a couple of faux rock Christmas songs that feature “raging” guitar solos worthy of Peter Cetera. If a poor choice in music supervisors was the film’s only trouble, things would be quite merry, but alas, it’s just one on a list of naughty (The Christmas wordplay ends here).
In fact, Sanderson’s commitment to "becoming Santa" feels half-assed at best. It feels as though he wanted to be in a film, and why not this one? Documentary personalities like Morgan Spurlock and Michael Moore can certainly be accused of trying to throw themselves into the spotlight, but Sanderson’s grab for fifteen minutes of fame is so blatant as to be cringe inducing.The most fascinating figure in the movie is Susan Mesco, CEO of American Events. She runs a “Santa School” that Sanderson attends. She’s bizarre and funny, and the documentary might have served itself better by being about her. At one point, Mesco says, “Don’t say the ‘K’ word [as in ‘kids’]. You say ‘children,’” Mesco explains, “Santa says ‘children.’”
In Santa School, Jack learns how to say ‘Ho Ho Ho’ (always in threes), as well as the art of cutting out paper snowflakes, and how much make-up and glitter each Kris Kringle should wear. There is a creepy moment when Mesco tells the Santas, “It’s so important to feel the love from these children and let them give it to you.” At this point, Mesco begins crying.
Sanderson becomes momentarily endearing when the Santas visit a toy store to hone up on the latest trends. A leader from American Events, Johnny Claus, takes the group of white-bearded men in civilian clothes down an aisle of action figures: “You’ve got Batman, you’ve got Spider-Man, you’ve got Captain America.” Sanderson takes a moment to tell the other Santas that there’s a Captain America movie coming out. At this point, director Jeff Meyers cuts to an interview with Sanderson, where he explains: “I’m a geek.”
Sanderson seems ambivalent to most of what happens in the film. The camera often catches him looking bored, indifferent. It is when Sanderson starts meeting with children in full Santa regalia that he comes across as especially awkward, and sometimes causes the viewer to squirm. Jack’s signature move throughout his interactions with children is to look at a young boy or girl and request “one of your special hugs.” His voice can send a shiver down one’s spine.
The rest of the film outlines the various Santa jobs that Sanderson is able to get. He finds work on a Polar Express in Philipsburg, NJ, where he has to see 360 people in 90 minutes. He does four of these rides per day. Jack does one day of this work, complains about it thoroughly, and then is on to the next job.
The whole affair finally comes to a close with the statement, “Like snowflakes, no two Ho Ho’s are exactly alike,” which is follow by fifty people saying “Ho Ho Ho.” And guess what? They all sound pretty goddamn similar. [D-]
‘Becoming Santa’ is available for download on iTunes