As comedian Jim Gaffigan pointed out in one of his comedy bits, Christmas behavior is insane. You put a tree in your house, and put lights on the outside. It’s also a holiday that was taken from the pagan celebration of the winter solstice and turned into Jesus’ birthday. And to be extra cynical, it’s a date intended to fuel consumerism and materialism. But none of that matters if you use it as an opportunity to gather around with loved ones, and have a good time. Classic movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Story are fun for the whole family, but just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean it can only be kid-friendly.
After the jump, I’ve listed five flicks full of naughty language and gleeful violence that should bring you joy and laughter on the holliest, jolliest day of the year.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Of the five movies on this list, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is the only one that doesn’t really qualify as a Christmas movie, but I love it to death, so I’m including it. It takes more than a Christmastime setting to make something a Christmas movie, but the setting does serve a purpose in Shane Black‘s directorial debut. The noir-comedy blend receives a boost from the colorful visuals, and helps the movie stand apart from other L.A.-based crime flicks. It may not have the Christmas spirit, but it does have creepy candy-cane models and Michelle Monaghan dressed in sexy Christmas-themed clothing, so don’t argue.
Shane Black also brought Christmas festivities to his script for the 1987 action classic, Lethal Weapon. Lethal Weapon and the remaining three movies on this list all share a common theme, which is the reunification of family. Deconstructed, Christmas is absurd, but despite the absurdity, it’s still tremendously sad when celebrated alone. That’s what Riggs (Mel Gibson) is facing, and while it’s not enough on its own to warrant thoughts of suicide, it inflates the loneliness and emptiness he’s been living with since the death of his wife. He had a family, and it was taken from him. Murtaugh (Danny Glover) unintentionally brings Riggs a new family, and that’s particularly clear with how quickly Murtaugh’s family warms to his new partner. There may be a fight to the death with Gary Busey in the Murtaughs’ home, but it’s a home that will welcome Riggs with open arms.
John McClane’s (Bruce Willis) wife isn’t dead, but he’s just as alone as Riggs when Die Hard begins. He’s not only separated from his wife, but also from his kids, and they’re on the opposite side of the country. He could have come in at any time of the year, but Christmas is the time for family, and McClane is trying to put his back together. Additionally, it’s a traditional family value forcing its way into a place where employees snort coke and have sex in empty offices. The fun part of Die Hard is how the movie, like the following two entries, is subverting Christmas for comic effect. Remove Christmas from the picture, and you lose the dark comedy of “Now I Have a Machine Gun Ho Ho Ho” and McClane strapping a gun to his back with “Seasons Greetings” tape. It’s not Christmas without Die Hard and it’s not Die Hard without Christmas.
The families in Lethal Weapon and Die Hard have been separated by either death or distance, but the Chasseurs would do anything to be apart. Their Christmas family gathering is already a shame since Lloyd (Kevin Spacey) and Caroline (Judy Davis) have decided to get a divorce, and their delinquent son Jesse (Robert J. Steinmiller Jr.) is squirreled away at military school. It’s only through the pretense of a happy family, which Lloyd and Caroline must perform at the demand of their kidnapper Gus (Denis Leary), that the couple finds their way back to true happiness. It’s certainly fun to watch Lloyd and Caroline bicker, and as their nephew John (Phillip Nicoll) says, “Their fights are bitchin!”, but his mother (Christine Baranski) scolds him by saying, “Don’t make me nuts today! It’s Christmas!” If we’re going to get all mushy with Christmas, then the holiday is supposed to emotionally bring people together to have an honestly good time. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of people in a room giving each other stuff. With a hard edge, excellent comic timing, and the bravery to tackle some serious drama, The Ref shows the annual holiday gathering can be something more than just tolerating others because it’s December 25th.
By far the crassest film on the list, Bad Santa is also the sweetest and most insightful (leave it to the Jewish Coen Brothers, who did heavy rewrites on the script, to find the meaning of Christmas). The movie is unapologetically mean-spirited in its comedy, and Billy Bob Thornton should be lauded for throwing himself head-first into his character’s depravity. There’s no twinkle in the eye or hint of a good heart. Director Terry Zwigoff makes sure every ounce of sentiment is earned. Willie is absolutely horrible to everyone, and the people who make him better—The Kid (Brett Kelly) and the hot bartender Sue (Lauren Graham)—accept him for who he is rather than condemn him for who’s not. Santa is supposed to have a lovable exterior, but it’s the guy beneath the cheap beard and red suit who matters.
Every kid who comes across Willie’s lap is requesting a present from a stranger (again, Christmas is weird). They’re a pint-sized reflection of cheap desire with minimal amount of effort. The Kid says he wants a pink elephant, but what he really wants is a makeshift family, and that’s what Willie needs. No one else wants to tolerate his bullshit, but family at its best is willing to weather a loved one’s anger and scorn. Willie doesn’t “deserve” to be redeemed, but Christmas shouldn’t be about deserving. Those kids don’t deserve presents just because they sat on a stranger’s lap and asked for something. The best gift can’t be bought, and the best gift is something that lasts. Christmas gives Willie a family and the family makes him a better person. Willie is still crass, cynical, and sardonic at the end of the movie, but he gets some humanity that will last after the lights go back in the house and the tree is kicked to the curb.