The worst Santa Claus I've ever seen was a scrawny teenager filling in at a local mall, forced into a baggy red and white suit roughly four sizes too large for him. He was mealy-mouthed and out of his element, mumbling "Merry Christmas" listlessly through a cheap beard, while the visibly disappointed parents wished they would have come to the mall on a different day. The funny thing is that the kids didn't seem to mind much. They were told they were seeing Santa, so, to them, that guy was Santa. It didn't matter how wrong he was for the part; the children wanted to believe.
Jack Sanderson, the subject of Jeff Myers' hilarious documentary 'Becoming Santa,' makes a great Santa Claus, but even he's not sure if he's right for the part. It's a massive responsibility. To become Santa, you have to be equal parts actor, rock star, magician, religious icon, and cartoon character, and Sanderson doesn't know if he has it in him. Luckily for him, there are plenty of people who do have it in them, and live every single day as if they were Santa Claus personified.
Friends Sanderson and Myers were inspired by the cross-country subculture of people who make their living being Santa Claus and infiltrated their low-pay profession with cameras in hand. Sanderson's personal transformation is documented from the moment he first painfully bleaches his beard, until the end of an exhausting Christmas season. Even as a novice, he's quick-witted and charismatic enough to quickly become a stand-out Santa Claus, but when the children are out of the picture, he often finds himself reflecting on his own lack of commitment to the part.
That's a solid-enough human interest story right there, but 'Becoming Santa' also educates viewers, cutting away from Sanderson's new job to give a broad history of the Santa Claus mythos. Historical experts and long-time Santas chime in on the character's international historical impact as well as a bit of armchair philosophizing on what makes Santa Claus so special to so many people. Sometimes these kinds of tangential "talking head" segments can feel like window dressing on a documentary that already has a strong lead character, but Myers' skill is in finding the right tone, conducting interviews that feel just as breezy as Sanderson's overarching story.
'Becoming Santa' has the goods to become an instant Holiday classic. It's charming, informative, and, best of all, really funny. Think 'Best Worst Movie' for the Christmas season, and you have a pretty good idea of what Myers has cooked up here. As a documentarian, he's out to entertain, first and foremost. It's Sanderson's approach to Santa Claus as well, and, because of that, they make a great pair.