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'Becoming Santa' Is A Joyless Christmas Doc

Reviews
by Ryan Sartor
December 25, 2011 10:39 AM
28 Comments
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Becoming Santa

When judging modern Christmas movies, a good place to start is with the “hipness” of the film’s music. Danny DeVito does a little hip-hop DJ-ing in “Deck the Halls,Michael Keaton fronts a touring rock act in “Jack Frost” (his group in the film is called ‘The Jack Frost Band’), and “This Christmas,” while a fine holiday movie, features the great Idris Elba playing passionate, bluesy saxophone in a Jazz club like he’s starring in a Miles Davis biopic. The accompanying vocal track? “Santa Baby.”

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).

Becoming Santa doc

‘Becoming Santa’ tells the story of Jack Sanderson, a regular guy who decides to grow out his beard, dye his hair, and get a season job as Santa Claus. A voice-over by Sanderson explains that he is becoming Santa in an effort to get in touch with the “Christmas spirit” after the passing of his parents, his last living relatives. While a noble task for Sanderson, but it does not make for a compelling film.

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.”

Becoming santa doc

The last part of Santa School involves Mesco dressing up in little kids’ clothes, sitting on each Santa’s lap, and testing how they deal with a “difficult child.” At one point, the film dates itself when Mesco asks Santa to “kill Osama bin Laden.” After some insistence on her’s part, Sanderson explains that “Santa doesn’t kill people. I know people at the U.N. I will help them find him.”

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.

Santa doc, Becoming Santa

'Becoming Santa’ may have worked as a twenty or thirty-minute doc, but at over ninety minutes, it’s nearly unbearable. And worse, its self-righteous enough to turn Buddy the Elf into the Grinch. There’s a lengthy section that (seriously) delves into ‘Post Christmas Depression,’ as Santas reflect on how sad they get when Christmas is over, like a bunch of First graders who have to return to school. As if all of this weren’t enough, structurally, the film has three endings, “Return of the King”-style. There is dramatic music, slow motion, sentimental musings, and then fifteen more minutes.

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

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28 Comments

  • C. | December 11, 2013 11:59 PMReply

    Also, this page posts your comment 15 times but doesn't seem to respond to your clicks. Just an FYI. :P

  • C. | December 11, 2013 11:58 PMReply

    Seriously? I saw the doc for the first time today and do not see how this review is even addressing the same film. Joyless? Hardly. Half the point, it seemed to me, was joy. I am not sure we're watching the same movie.

    I thought Jack was entertaining and witty, with more charisma than most in the typical documentary among several other positives.

    This review just seems really way off. I think the bottom line is perhaps it just wasn't *their* thing, and failed to judge it apart from that.

  • C. | December 11, 2013 11:58 PMReply

    Seriously? I saw the doc for the first time today and do not see how this review is even addressing the same film. Joyless? Hardly. Half the point, it seemed to me, was joy. I am not sure we're watching the same movie.

    I thought Jack was entertaining and witty, with more charisma than most in the typical documentary among several other positives.

    This review just seems really way off. I think the bottom line is perhaps it just wasn't *their* thing, and failed to judge it apart from that.

  • C. | December 11, 2013 11:58 PMReply

    Seriously? I saw the doc for the first time today and do not see how this review is even addressing the same film. Joyless? Hardly. Half the point, it seemed to me, was joy. I am not sure we're watching the same movie.

    I thought Jack was entertaining and witty, with more charisma than most in the typical documentary among several other positives.

    This review just seems really way off. I think the bottom line is perhaps it just wasn't *their* thing, and failed to judge it apart from that.

  • C. | December 11, 2013 11:58 PMReply

    Seriously? I saw the doc for the first time today and do not see how this review is even addressing the same film. Joyless? Hardly. Half the point, it seemed to me, was joy. I am not sure we're watching the same movie.

    I thought Jack was entertaining and witty, with more charisma than most in the typical documentary among several other positives.

    This review just seems really way off. I think the bottom line is perhaps it just wasn't *their* thing, and failed to judge it apart from that.

  • C. | December 11, 2013 11:57 PMReply

    Seriously? I saw the doc for the first time today and do not see how this review is even addressing the same film. Joyless? Hardly. Half the point, it seemed to me, was joy. I am not sure we're watching the same movie.

    I thought Jack was entertaining and witty, with more charisma than most in the typical documentary among several other positives.

    This review just seems really way off. I think the bottom line is perhaps it just wasn't *their* thing, and failed to judge it apart from that.

  • Courtney | December 6, 2013 1:22 AMReply

    I just watched this documentary today and I didn't think it was that has. However I will say this, I was more creeped out by Susan than Jack, I did think the scene with him complaining after the polar express ride was ridiculous, and twenty minutes in I was slightly bored. But the ending totally won me over when he did the sneek a peeks and I liked all of the background information about Santa and our traditions. I would give the movIe a C+ or maybe a B-

  • Courtney | December 6, 2013 1:21 AMReply

    I just watched this documentary today and I didn't think it was that has. However I will say this, I was more creeped out by Susan than Jack, I did think the scene with him complaining after the polar express ride was ridiculous, and twenty minutes in I was slightly bored. But the ending totally won me over when he did the sneek a peeks and I liked all of the background information about Santa and our traditions. I would give the movIe a C+ or maybe a B-

  • Jeff | November 13, 2013 1:40 AMReply

    I'm with Kris Kringle on this one! The author of this piece completely missed the message behind this film, and I suspect that this Christmas they will end up with a lump of coal so large, that it will have to be delivered on a flat-bed truck. I can only hope it will be enough to warm that teeny tiny heart of his back up.

    The film is wonderful, and gives a bit of insight into the lives of some of the amazing men everywhere who do their best to spread the spirit of Christmas to people of all ages. It's also an entertaining look at one man's journey into that world, and how he deals with everything one might endure to fully take on the persona of Santa Claus.

    If you hate Christmas, have no sense of humour, and are a cold bitter Grinch with a shrunken heart (and brain), then by all means… skip this film. If however, you love Christmas, have ever wondered what it takes to be a good Santa Claus, or are simply looking for that little spark of magic to get you in the Holiday spirit, then this is a fun film to sit down with a nice cold glass of milk and some cookies to enjoy!

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:30 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Jeff | November 13, 2013 1:23 AM

    You tell him Kris! I couldn't agree more on both your opinion of the Grinch who wrote this ugly and heartless review, as well as how wonderful this film is!

    Merry Christmas!

  • Jeff | November 13, 2013 1:23 AM

    You tell him Kris! I couldn't agree more on both your opinion of the Grinch who wrote this ugly and heartless review, as well as how wonderful this film is!

    Merry Christmas!

  • Jeff | November 13, 2013 1:23 AM

    You tell him Kris! I couldn't agree more on both your opinion of the Grinch who wrote this ugly and heartless review, as well as how wonderful this film is!

    Merry Christmas!

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:30 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:30 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:30 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:30 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:30 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:29 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:29 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:29 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:29 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:29 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:29 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:29 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:29 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:29 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

  • Kris Kringle | October 30, 2013 6:29 AMReply

    You are a total grinch. This movie was not only funny, compelling, but deeply insightful. Jack is so incredibly witty and engaging as far as a protagonist. You missed the point completely. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a child, because this movie is all heart.

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