The Ninjabot

Review: I Am Santa Claus (2014)

Posted on December 7, 2014 at 10:08 pm by Nathan Tolle

iamsantaThere is a scene in the outstanding new documentary I Am Santa Claus that takes place at the annual convention for the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas where we see Santas from all over the country conversing over drinks, lounging in the whirlpool, playing basketball, and cheering each other up from post-Christmas depression. Director Tommy Avallone probably could have chosen five of these men completely at random to star in this documentary and still given us a fascinating and moving insight on what jolly St. Nick is like throughout the whole year. Any man who puts on the big red suit and convinces children to believe in this cherished fantasy probably has a plethora of extraordinary personal stories to tell, and the five men we follow in I Am Santa Claus keep us feeling enchanted and intrigued, much like their December personas do for kids.

The film opens with a group of children being asked to describe Santa Claus. Assuming everybody is correct, he’s a medium-fat-sized magical man sporting a fluffy white beard, rosy cheeks, and a twinkle in his eye, and who lives at the North Pole where he does nothing for fun because he’s too busy making and delivering presents. In one of the five interconnecting stories, we learn that the twinkle in Santa Russell Spice’s eye is stubbornly elusive due to the fact that he’s relying on social security and feeling bitter as a result of age-discrimination in an economy that isn’t improving quite quickly enough. He lives in his daughter’s basement in Sterling Heights, Michigan, where he munches on junk food from the moment he wakes up, and from this introduction it’s difficult to imagine how he can possess the delightful, uplifting mystique that is required in a successful Santa Claus. In order to afford a place of his own, he desperately needs to be hired to play Santa again; the film does a good job in piling on the suspense with clever uses of animation.

iamsanta3Next we travel to the deep South and meet Santa Jim Stevenson, who has the type of charming Southern cadence (think Richard Farnsworth) anyone would love to hear reciting Twas the Night Before Christmas in front of the fireplace. Not only is he respected in the Santa community, but he’s also a proud member of the bear community in Dallas, where he has been voted Mr. Polar Bear at the Texas Bear Roundup. One of the reasons he takes his Santa Claus persona seriously is because his family has been deceased for quite some time, so this gives him an opportunity to play an important role in other families and to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s inspiring that even in a deeply conservative state like Texas, an openly gay man can play Santa Claus not only in malls, but also in churches. The reason is because Jim Stevenson is such a lovely man who could make a believer out of anyone—he has the heart and soul of Santa Claus.

Our next Santa Claus is heavily tattooed and possesses an extraordinary gift of the gab in his thick Long Island accent, coming across like a champion of the oppressed and a symbol of the working man. Articulate, intelligent, and personable, Frank Pascuzzi is the kind of Santa that would have no trouble answering the unexpected, tough questions a child might ask about the technicalities of reindeer, elves, and chimney excursions. Often stressed and unhappy about his job designing fire sprinkler systems, nothing pleases him more than when he gets to don the red suit. To hopefully alleviate the bundle of nerves he feels at the end of the day, he recently legally changed his name to Santa Claus!

iamsanta4The biggest selling point of the film is undoubtedly the participation of Mick Foley, who entertained professional wrestling fans for many years as Mankind, Cactus Jack, and Dude Love. Over the years he has impressed me just as much with his skills outside of the ring, for he’s also been a bestselling author, activist for progressive causes, and stand-up comic, and in this film he attempts to add something else to his long list of achievements–something that is extremely dear to him. Wrestling fans will get a kick out of stories from the Blue Meanie about how Mick liked to listen to Christmas carols from Nat King Cole before a match instead of the usual heavy metal heard in locker rooms. Jerry “The King” Lawyer, Tommy Dreamer, and Dee Snider also comment on Foley’s Christmas spirit, which truly blossomed once he got to take his own children to Santa’s Village in Jefferson, New Hampshire. He says with a bright smile that one of the main reasons he had more children was so that this beautiful tradition could continue. This was the magical place that gave him the inspiration to celebrate Christmas year-round and devote a special room in his house that is all Christmas all the time.

iamsanta2Even after so many accomplishments (and also a Buzzfeed list containing 26 reasons why Mick Foley is the coolest person ever), Mrs. Foley’s baby boy remains humble and genuine, and we get immense satisfaction out of seeing him succeed so naturally as Santa. Easily the funniest moment of the film comes when a little boy tells Santa Foley what he wants for Christmas, and Foley can’t help but smirk as he tries to come up with a more delicate way of saying, “Santa will do his best to make sure you get those two round balls.” Among the other highlights of his journey is conversing with Sid Haig and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper at a horror convention and getting helpful advice from a Santa mentor that lives on Santa Claus Lane, has a Bachelor’s degree in Santaclausology, and claims that God gave him the right to channel Santa.

A fifth Santa is showcased, and while he has some amusing anecdotes, his storyline gets lost in the shuffle because compared to the others, there is very little pathos. I would have preferred a segment dedicated to the only member of The Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas (at least in the clips that were shown) who is African-American because seeing how numerous members oppose their new President due to his lifestyle (he’s a frequenter of a swingers club in Portland, Oregon), it would have been interesting to hear their opinions of whether race matters in a Santa. The President of FORBS  is a delightful man named Rob Figley who has made a personal mission to help as many people as possible ever since the tragic death of his brother. At one point, he says that “helping out children to be better is relatively easy, but fixing broken adults is a lot harder.”

A sign of a great documentary is wishing that it just could have been longer, much longer. It would have been a pleasure to see more footage of the Santas interacting with the children without a soundtrack drowning out the dialogue. We’ve gotten to know these men so well during the spring and summer months, but their moments to shine as Santa come and go so quickly that we’re unable to get a clear sense of their individual strengths and weaknesses. It would have been insightful to hear some personal stories of the times things didn’t go as planned, reminiscent of what happened in a mall in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida when Santa attempted a grand entrance that turned out to be a legitimate nightmare before Christmas.

Personally, my favorite holiday has always been Halloween—this year marked the publication of my first book, Pumpkin Cinema: The Best Movies for Halloween—and post-Halloween depression hits me hard every year. But eventually cheering me up is the realization that soon I’ll get to celebrate the Christmas season and revisit many cherished films. The charming, uplifting, and entertaining I Am Santa Claus will definitely hit the spot on many Decembers to come, preferably accompanied with a fresh batch of Hershey Kiss peanut butter cookies; after all, when you’re watching a movie about Santa Claus, you can enjoy all the cookies you want.

I Am Santa Claus – B

I Am Santa Claus is available for streaming on Netflix. And don’t forget kids, you spell it S-A-N-T-A C-L-A-U-S. Hooray for Santy Claus!

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