The holiday season is already beginning, according to the various Christmas-themed commercials I’ve already seen in the early days of November. Soon the kids will be visiting the mall to see Santa Claus to excitedly tell him what it is they want this year. Or maybe they’ll just start crying uncontrollably. Either way. But there are many, many malls around the country and many, many men who take the role of Santa Claus. Plenty of them aren’t simply a man in a fake beard, but a gentleman who resembles the jolly elf 24/7.
“Whose lap is your child sitting on?” That’s the question asked in Tommy Avallone’s I Am Santa Claus. This documentary takes place over the course of 2012, following the lives of four men who take up the Saint Nick mantle, as well as a certain WWE hardcore legend trying to see if he has what it takes to become Santa Claus himself.
In the beginning, we meet our four main Santas. Bob Gerardi is a successful Santa-themed real estate agent, who spends plenty of time at church and also assists with the Easter Bunny in his spare time. Jim Stevenson, an employee at an antiquing store, is a proud homosexual, shown to have a medal from partaking in the “Mr. Texas Bear Round-Up.” He spends much of the movie dealing with being in a long-distance relationship. Frank Pascuzzi is in the sprinkler business, but really wants to transition into running his own Santa-themed BBQ restaurant. Then there’s Russell Spice, our focal Santa. While the other three are doing all right for themselves, Russell is anything but. He’s unemployed and banking on getting a Santa gig for the coming December just so he can buy a trailer and move out of his daughter’s basement.
Mick Foley gets some focus too. The retired pro wrestler and acclaimed author loves Christmas to death and has dressed as Santa on TV a couple times, but that was still just him blatantly being Mick Foley in a costume. He decides that he’s going to become an honest-to-God Santa and play the role at Santa’s Village. We get to see his quest firsthand.
I Am Santa Claus is an uneven crapshoot. Obviously, the camera crew took in lots of footage over the year and tried to make a narrative out of what they were given with differing results. Bob Gerardi, the real estate agent, has a pretty fulfilling life and seems to have everything figured out. There really isn’t much to say about him, which explains why he’s barely even in the movie to begin with. The most they get is a segment where he and a friend put together a Christmas-themed album with hopes that it might do okay.
Similarly, Jim Stevenson’s story isn’t the most interesting, though he’s a step up above Gerardi. The sensitive Stevenson is incredibly likeable and seeing him break down when his attempt to be strong in the face of constantly being away from the man he loves is at times heartbreaking, but there really isn’t all that much to say about his Santa lifestyle. Frank Pascuzzi – who has legally changed his name to Santa Claus – is another guy who is incredibly likeable, but doesn’t have much of a narrative.
Russell Spice is the true main character because there’s actual conflict in his screentime. The guy’s life is a depressing state of affairs. For some time, he’s been unable to get a new job due to his age and relies completely on playing Santa for two months a year (he suggests that he gets paid somewhere in the $10,000 range for that, which is…wow). He’s incredibly shabby, especially when shown in the company of other Santas. The problem is, the guy who hired him last year decided he no longer wants him back this year and now Russell is in trouble because he really, really needs some kind of Santa job. See? That’s something.
Spice is also the glue that holds this picture together. The various main Santas don’t exactly all meet up together, even if there are several Santa-themed get-togethers shown throughout the year (including, I kid you not, the Fraternity of Real Bearded Santas). There’s very little actual crossover between the different Santas. Frank Pascuzzi as Santa visits the Foley family at one point and we see Pascuzzi share a hotel room with Spice at the FORBS meeting, but that’s really it.
Despite that, Spice makes the whole experiment feel stronger by being at odds with everyone else, whether he meets them or not. With Pascuzzi, there’s a truly interesting part of the film where they discuss the FORBS president, who is rumored to also work at a sex club and takes part in swinging on the side. While Spice doesn’t take a definitive stance, he doesn’t seem to agree with Pascuzzi’s take that it isn’t hurting anyone. Similarly, Spice wonders about whether the idea of a gay Santa is acceptable, putting him at odds with Stevenson. Later on, we see Gerardi staying in a fairly classy hotel juxtaposed with where Spice has to live during his two months of work.
Even though Spice is the only Santa to really have a narrative worth caring about, it is an incredibly depressing one and is helped by everyone else distracting us with their more upbeat screentime. Luckily, the movie also keeps us entertained with some really bizarre and ridiculous moments. Gerardi’s visit to a Santa-themed church gathering is too weird to be real and I’m still wondering if I imagined it. Even better is a certain narrative device used to, well, spice up Spice’s downer stories. I really don’t want to spoil it, but they illustrate his situations in a brilliant way that had me laughing for minutes.
I haven’t said much about Mick Foley and for good reason. As much as I love the guy, his story feels almost tacked on. The other four have a more solid theme of what Santas are doing when they aren’t playing the role and Foley’s quest to become a Santa doesn’t mesh with that too well. It feels like it was just thrown into the mix to give more people a reason to check out the documentary. I mean, chances are, you’re reading this review because Mick Foley’s in the movie, so mission complete. And it’s not like his story can really carry its own documentary. A guy seeing if he can play a decent enough Santa doesn’t really bring too many story beats, even if the little we see is entirely watchable.
For curious wrestling fans, the documentary does feature talking head cameos from Jerry Lawler, Tommy Dreamer, and the Blue Meanie. Roddy Piper meets up with Foley at a horror convention and absolutely owns what ends up being a hilarious conversation.
I Am Santa Claus is amusing because it needs to be. There isn’t much meat in the story, so it has to rely on the colorful characters and utter strangeness of being a member of the Santa Claus community. While Mick Foley may be the true draw in whether someone decides to watch this or not, the real star is Frank Pascuzzi. While he doesn’t do all that much, whenever he’s around he completely lights up the scene. He comes off as the most genuine, nicest, coolest guy that you’d find yourself more interested in spending the day with him than you would the actual Santa Claus.
By the way, as much as I hate to say it, Foley’s Santa voice is even more unnerving than his original Mankind voice. Sorry, Mick.