Well, the season of good-will is here, and so is the time for The Cinephiliacs to spread joy with the odd review for films that are based around Christmas. This one, a documentary from director Tommy Avallone (Community College) and producer Mick Foley (WWE Hall of Famer who worked in the pro-wrestling business as Cactus Jack, Mankind and Dude Love), follows a number of North American guys who each have their own individual story centring around their passion for portraying Santa Claus.
Set over the course of a year in the lives of five different men with real beards who are professional Santa’s, we take a look at how life works for individuals who jump into the roles of the rotund, jolly and festive guy in the red, white and black, each year. Delving into the personal lives of each of these men, we get to see how they tick, and how beneath their crimson cloth, white furry trim, jovial “ho, ho, ho” and big white beard, they are hot blooded, emotional, struggling and flawed people with real issues and real problems, but with an overwhelming urge to spread cheer and help build memories for the children and people they meet. While we see the lives of these pro-Santas, we also see Mick Foley (a guy, who as a wrestling fan, I have always liked and found to be really warm and likeable) himself becoming Santa, learning the ropes in a profession very different from the one that made him famous, and trying his hand at being Santa Claus, something he continues to do, and love. It also shows the in’s and out’s of how Santa Claus’s get their jobs and we even get a glimpse into conventions and gatherings of real-bearded St. Nick’s.
It’s an entertaining and fun glimpse into a niche sub-culture that all leads up to a short period at the end of each year. Mick Foley’s story is the one I enjoyed seeing the most here, possibly because I am a wrestling fan and a Foley fan, so seeing him follow through with a passion of his, bringing his family along with him as he did, was heart-warming and funny. The stories of the professional Santa’s are very interesting though, and each of them offers a different perspective of what it may be like to be in such a specific job. One of the Santa’s, Russell, is on social-security, he’s struggling financially and he’s lonely, and he also isn’t sure from one day to the next whether he will even get work that year. His story borders on depressing at times, showing him in his hotel room looking pensive and tired, somewhat low in mood. One of the Santa’s, Jim, is in a long distance gay relationship that he is struggling with due to being so far away from his partner. He looks the part though, the most authentic and jolly looking of all the Santa’s in this film, and there is a scene in which he speaks about being a small part of people’s lives, helping them make memories, in which he becomes emotional, and shows him to be a thoughtful man who has an obvious love for his role and takes his responsibility seriously. Another Santa named Bob has perhaps the least interesting story, mostly because he is a pro-Santa who has a normal everyday life and doesn’t seem to exist purely for his festive-role. He makes music in a studio and shows the side of the coin which is somewhat less obsessive and more balanced, a look at how being Santa each year can be an everyday thing that doesn’t really come across as “unusual”. The final Santa in the film is a guy from Long Island, New York, who changed his name legally to Santa Claus. He even made an appearance in the Mick Foley household to surprise one of Mick’s “still believing” kids during the film, which made for an enjoyable scene. He makes BBQ and has a dream of being Santa and owning his own BBQ restaurant.
All of the stories have obvious similarities, but are also very different. The varying walks of life on show offer diverse versions of a professional Santa Claus. The expensive department store Santa, the famous charity appearance Santa, the get-any-work-anywhere Santa, the BBQ Santa and the general around the local area Santa. Each one offering as much of their own warmth and joy as they can muster (some more than others), it is a charming documentary that never comes off as creepy, but instead rather curious at times. Ever want to see Santa strip down to his underpants in a chicken coop and pose for photographs in a tin bathtub? No? Oh… well perhaps have your finger on the “fast-forward” button for a minute here then. It is fun to see the conventions, showing that the whole “Santa-thing” is quite a popular and wide-spread deal with many guys with big long white beards and thick black belts making it their life’s work to become “the big guy”.
It’s not for everyone, some might find it a little cringe-worthy at times (which is surely the point here, some moments are obviously going to come off as awkward), and if you have no interest in Christmas or documentaries that look at small sections of society then you might not dig it either. It’s also not one to watch with your kids. While there are plenty of family-friendly moments here, especially the Foley parts, there is also some heavy drinking, bad language and sexual references that aren’t exactly appropriate for festive family viewing. I did enjoy this though, it reminded me of other documentaries that look at groups of people who “go all out” in their chosen area, be it VHS collecting, Halloween or Horror makeup. This stands beside those sorts of films as an interesting and compelling look at Santa Claus, the importance that his presence has on today’s culture and society, and the people who channel him for a living.
To end, I will highlight the standout moment of the film. Foley, in full Santa-regalia, asks a young boy what he wants for Christmas. The boy innocently asks for a “round ball”. Santa Mick asks what else the kid wants for Christmas. The boy innocently replies “another round ball”. Mick then proclaims, also with innocence initially… “Santa will do his best to bring you two… round…” at his point Mick’s eyes realise where this sentence is going, and with a desperation of not wanting to appear crude and testicular-minded, finishes the sentence with… “athletic spheres”. I laughed my arse off at this scene, and it made the film that bit more enjoyable for me. Worth a watch, for sure. Ho, ho, ho.