Tag Archives: Billy Bob Thornton

TIFF18: A Million Little Pieces

A Million Little Pieces is a technically competent (and occasionally impressive) film that lacks perspective and personality. In life generally and this festival particularly, we have been inundated with films about addictions and recovery. If you’re going to pile on, I expect you have a hot take, a fresh point of view. It’s not unreasonable to expect that A Million Little Pieces might have had one; several years ago (2003, in fact), James Frey released his memoir (of the same name) and it was a monster best-seller. But when questions of authenticity surfaced, Frey’s shooting star burned out quickly, thanks in large part to Oprah’s dragon-fire condemnation.

The film was relegated to back burner, then cold storage, then deep freeze as the controversy was allowed to cool. But now that people have all but forgotten his name, Sam Taylor-Johnson brings his story to the big screen but curiously leaves the scandal unthawed, with only a Mark Twain quote to excuse away his dishonesty.

AMillionLittlePieces_0HEROWhat’s left is a story without a single breath of uniqueness. Drugs are bad, behaviour off the rails, shipped to rehab against his will, detox makes you sick, “I don’t need to be here,” resistance, rule-breaking, temptation, uncovering trauma, cautious optimism. Insert new names and this could literally describe at least a dozen movies about addictions, and those are just the ones I can name and I can’t name shit. Although Sam Taylor-Johnson makes things pretty (save her own husband, with cracked teeth and a broken nose), this feels like a very familiar, very formulaic iteration.

Taylor-Johnson’s husband, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, co-writes the script with her (which seems not to be a strength) and stars as Frey. She has enormous faith in his abilities as an actor, and directs him well. He’s committed and intense, and would have been great in a great role, except they failed to write one, and this “Frey” character is bland and superficial. We hardly get to know him, and the few flashbacks are not informative or expository, they’re hardly more than images. That said, his costars, including Billy Bob Thornton, Giovanni Ribisi, Juliette Lewis, Charlie Hunnam, and Odessa Young, get even shorter shrift. Back stories? Ha. These people barely get front stories. They fill the obligatory sharing-circle chairs and that’s about it.

I think there might have been a little life to this story had they not shied away from the truth of it. But as is, it’s a million little pieces of ordinary that add up to 113 minutes of boring, minus the 40 seconds or so when Aaron rocks out with his cock out. With so many options at the cinema, this just doesn’t cut it. An easy miss.

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Bad Santa

A mall Santa and his “elf” rob department stores after a long day of hearing children’s Christmas lists. After a particularly good score, Billy Bob Thornton vows to stop his Bad Santa ways and head on down to retire in Miami like the good drunk he is. And he does. It’s just that he’s still a miserable SOB whose only skill is taking things that aren’t his.

Bad Santa is a proud raunchy comedy, sparking an alarming trend in holiday films. At the time (2003) it held the record for most profanities in a Christmas film: 300, over half which are fucks.

bad-santa-3-1000Weirdly, both Bill Murray and Jack Nicholson hoped for the role before committing to other projects. Billy Bob stepped into the title role (which was translated as “Santa is a Pervert” in the Czech Republic) and to this day he lists the filming as one of only 3 time periods he’d care to revisit (the other two being the Alamo, and 1979, when he worked for the Arkansas Highway Department. He’s a weird guy.).

Anyway, Bad Santa and his conman elf get back into business in Arizona, where the fly in their ointment is a bullied chubby kid whose family would make a great mark if only he wasn’t so endearing. Cloris Leachman, who plays the kid’s uncredited Grandma, is the only high point of the film. I watched this when it was new and didn’t care for it so colour me surprised to learn that there’s a sequel out in theatres, because apparently someone wanted that.

What I didn’t want was to see John Ritter sweating away in this last embarrassing role, or Bernie Mac constipated and not much else, but what I REALLY didn’t want to see was a Gilmore Girl awkwardly folded into the front seat of a shitbox car screaming “Fuck me, Santa!” I have recently spent time with the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix but I have no urge to find out how much badder this Santa can get. It should be noted that Lauren Graham is NOT back for Bad Santa 2 but Oscar winner Octavia Spencer is, and she’s joined by Oscar winner Kathy Bates. Mysteries abound.