DEAR SANTA – Review
Well, it looks like you’ve exercised your culinary skills and finally finished off the last of the leftovers from last week’s big holiday meal. It must be time to move on to the next big holiday looming in the not-so-distant future. After the decorations are all in place, the gift list can be tackled. Since we’re being told that it still won’t be safe enough to gather in big groups, that list may be a tad shorter this year. Perhaps instead of wrapping up ‘merch’ that would be tossed in the back of the closet…or re-gifted…or returned to the store, you may want to consider helping those in need. But where should you start? A terrific new documentary should provide you with loads of inspiration, all sparked by hundreds, no thousands, of letters and cards scrawled in pencil and crayon whose content begins with DEAR SANTA.
This delightful doc is really a celebration of Operation: Santa, a charity effort begun over a hundred years ago by the US Postal Service, another organization that’s heroically “stepped up’ during the ongoing pandemic. Yes, there’s a good deal of history, but the film really focuses on their most current efforts with several stories swirling about a recent Christmas season, perhaps in the “before times” of 2019. We get to meet several honorary “elves” from all over America, from the big burgs of NYC and Chicago, to dusty towns in rural California, and even in snowy Alaska, not far from the “big guy’s” HQ. There’s an early sequence in the home of the charity, the Farley Post Office in the “Big Apple” where groups sift through boxes and bags of letters addressed to Mr. Claus, Almost at the same time in the “Windy City” returning “helpers” zero in on which kids to help. A man in his early 30’s who was helped by the program as a child, is followed as he tirelessly tries to gather funds and items from different companies and businesses. There’s a similar story out west as a postal carrier (she still loves toys) puts in lots of personal time with co-workers as she tries to rekindle her own Yule-time wonder just months after losing everything (including, yes, toys) in the horrific fire that destroyed Paradise, CA. And then there are those heart-tugging and often adorable letters and lists. Most are for clothes (the hottest shoes) and toys (all the newest electronic gadgets), though many are a bit beyond the elves (baby brothers and sisters, and even a real live dinosaur). There’s a really unique request for a limo tour of downtown NY. And there are those future pet owners, whose “gifts” need special care and planning with the parents (puppies and bunnies, oh my). Although the film’s length we’re told of the rapidly approaching “big day” as the elves (including a grade-school class) along with the USPS pull out all the stops to make the “big day” one that the families will never forget.
Veteran documentary filmmaker Dana Nachman has lovingly crafted a truly heart-warming ode to the joy of giving. She keeps the storylines flowing at a brisk pace, limits the “talking heads” and archival footage to a minimum, and never hammers home the “holly and ivy” clichés of the season. Nor does she shy away from the personal tragedies of the various elves (other than Paradise, a few were survivors of Hurricane Katrina), but never forgets the childhood wonder as we hear lots of “special Santa stuff” from his biggest, but also smallest fans and admirers. The subtle score from Dave Tweedie builds and “swells” at just the correct moments for prime emotional impact. This is especially true on the magical wintery morning when those dreams come true (or awfully close for some). Keep those hankies at hand because if you don’t get a bit “misty-eyed” you may need to check your veins for ice water. It’s a sweet 90-minute reminder of what the holiday is really all about. If you want to warm your insides on a frigid day, the next best thing to a steaming mug of hot cocoa from Mom is experiencing the delicious delights of DEAR SANTA.
3.5 Out of 4
DEAR SANTA is playing at select theatres and is available as a Video On Demand via most streaming apps and platforms