SXSW Review: Becoming Santa
I must be getting fatigued, because I was not feeling the Christmas spirit on the SXSW Audience Award winning documentary Becoming Santa. In fact, I could be downright cynical about it.
Jack is a 44-year-old man in Los Angeles, but he’s from New Hampshire where they had white Christmases. After his mom died, he stopped celebrating and has now totally lost his Christmas spirit. But an old photo he finds of his dad dressed as Santa Claus inspires him. Maybe if he can become a Santa this year, he’ll get his Christmas spirit back.
The industry of training Santas is pretty interesting. Santa school is crazy, thanks to Susan, the instructor who takes it way too seriously. She’s right though, Santa has to be above human sympathy, because he’s magically compassionate. It comes down to rules like calling them children, because that’s more magical than “kids.”
These are tough orders to follow and Jack is rightfully skeptical of Susan. She puts her Santas through the tests of Spanish speaking children, crying babies and even plays a difficult child herself. Santa could be put in the position of explaining heaven, and he’s got to wing it if a Christmas wish is to find Osama bin Laden. Hey, it could come up.
The problem I started having is I don’t think Jack ever got it. He remains cynical when working with real children. He makes jokes at the expense of babbling incomprehensible kids. Look, we know it makes no sense, but you don’t have to joke about it with their parents. Just tell the children, “What a wonderful wish, Santa hears you.” He even makes fun of letters to Santa. Sure, some brats are entitled and demand a lot, but that’s their parents’ problem. You just humor them.
Jack finally finds some joy in it, I think. I mean, he’s better off then when he was moping around, and it’s only his first year so maybe he’ll get into it like the others. We meet some year-round pros who range from ultra-serious character actors to just sweet men who like to bring a little joy to children.
More industry tidbits include confirmation that Coke did NOT invent the red and white suit. The Operation Santa Claus system is a wonderful charity, and it’s interesting how they maintain the families’ privacy while allowing benefactors to donate.
The film concludes with a brief touch on the depression that sets in in January. I get that because I feel it when I return from festivals like SXSW. Ultimately, the film is all about love and goodness and it’s a well made documentary to cover the grueling demands of a Santa. I just didn’t think Jack actually succeeded, but maybe that’s just manipulative editing.