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AFF review: Santa Quest

A crude but entertaining look at Santa

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John Dunsworth walked into a crowded Park Lane theatre on Saturday afternoon and sat down next to old friend, filmmaker Neal Livingston. Dunsworth chatted with his friend until it was time to stand and address the crowd.

Director PJ Naworynski and producer Edward Peill stood beside the Trailer Park Boys alumnus but it was obvious that no one was there to hear their introductions—the audience hung off Dunsworth's every word.

“I haven't seen the film yet and I'm pretty nervous about it,” said Dunsworth.

Dunsworth is a consummate entertainer. No matter how provocative or crude his comedy, Dunsworth is always engaging and endearing. He is intelligent, genuine and unremittingly energetic. Dunsworth's Santa takes after the man himself—he is totally subversive and totally charming.

Santa John is a horny, boozy, foul-mouthed, aviator-sunglasses-wearing, self-flagellating denigration of the traditional Santa Claus. This hilarious revision of the sanitized saint follows the footsteps of Billy Bob Thorton and expands the trope. The audience is introduced to the wayward Santa as he clings to a one-horned mechanical bull with a temporary red nose. The brutal antagonist bucks back and forth, up and down, unsympathetically testing the limits of the saint impersonator. It's Bad Santa meets Jackass.

Santa Quest manages to explore the true meaning of Santa Claus without shying away from Dunsworth's personal life or pervy old man persona.

The documentary follows Dunsworth around Halifax and around the world as he trains to be the best Santa Claus he can be, learns about the history of the beloved holiday saint, and goes for gold at the Santa Winter Games in Sweden. Dunsworth finds himself up against some stiff competition with delegates from countries like Brazil, Japan, Hong Kong and France in five heart-pounding competitions like porridge eating and present stacking. Although Dunsworth has moments of discontent and seeming regret, he never gives up on exploring the concept of Santa Claus or on giving to those around him.

In the end what the audience learns, or at least what this audience member learned, was that giving can take many forms. Giving can mean working at a soup kitchen or it can mean making people laugh. An idealized and sanitized Santa isn't necessarily the best version. Sometimes Santa says “I believe” and sometimes he says “I'm freezing my balls off!”

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