On a freezing winter day somewhere in America, the children are being the innocent, playful creatures they so often are in the movies, and Billy (Bobby Coleman), a 10-year-old white boy with cancer, and his buddy Lucas (a scene-stealing Christian Martyn) befriend the new exotic black boy in town, Howard (Bobb’e J. Thompson). Together they discover an old man’s corpse buried in the snow, and after a near-death experience during an avalanche, the boys become the talk of town and clash with their school’s most notorious bully. In the meantime, little girls are left to braid their hair, gushing over the completely asexual boys and watching them call one another “pansy.” Billy wants to do something big before he dies, like getting into the Guinness Book of Records, and decides to unabashedly use his cancer as marketing strategy to get people to help him make thousands of snowmen so he can break a record.
I’m not sure what part of Snowmen doesn’t scream completely inappropriate, sentimental Manichean drivel. Under the nauseating “coming-of-age” formula in which white boys in lethal peril are shown to have enough charisma and good karma to enlist an entire town as the army for their narcissistic, and completely innocuous, dreams, the film tries to reiterate the myth of the naturally pure, white child for whom even death may just have to stand back and go bother someone else, and cancer itself can be exploited as a kind of commodity.
Snowmen features not only the most familiar of cinematic offenses (the trite sound score as sole vehicle for emotional expression, the token “Jamaican” boy as comedic buffoon, and the complete passivity of girls), but some of the most egregious depictions of what is truly important for an American child: winning, even if it means dying right after! Here the yardstick for measuring existential accomplishment is to beat someone at something in the most spectacular way possible. What is the breaking of a record, as recognized by Guinness, but the official legitimation that one has just rendered a previous winner a brand new loser? The assumption is also that to achieve one’s goals one will elicit the help of others by any means necessary, and the fragile coating of solidarity that supposedly underpins teamwork has never been so transparent as a sham. It’s the individualistic heroism of just one child, whose cause is only noble to himself, shall be rewarded. In a particularly appalling scene, Billy musters just enough courage to get on top of a school cafeteria table and remove his winter cap, finally revealing his hairless head so that he can have the attention of everyone in the room, convince them to volunteer for making thousands of snowmen in his name.