Bethlehem (2015) – By Philip Smolen


Michael Early (Michael Malone) and his younger sister Bridget (Melissa Revels) hate going home for the holidays. They despise their family including their younger brother Bobby (Mike Drobzelecki) who’s 26 and still living at home as well as their pill popping mother (Cindy Maples) and their obnoxious gay Uncle Raymond (Rich Ragains). However, this year’s celebration is made even worse by the arrival of Cousin Brian (Derik Zooashkiyani) who has finally been released from prison and their father (Raymond Kester) who has left their mother and taken up with a much younger woman. But the worse part of every family holiday is that both Michael and Bridget have to lie about how well their own lives are going. The Early’s are a mess and this year’s celebration will let them know just how screwed up they really are.

“Bethlehem” is a new comedy from writer/director Michael Malone and it’s a sassy holiday masterpiece. It draws its inspiration from modern holiday flicks such as “Bad Santa’ (2003), “Christmas with the Kranks” (2004) and “Four Christmases” (2008) where everyone pretends to be happy and successful only to fall apart in front of the very people they want to impress. Every one of the Early’s has problems, but each feels that they are superior to the other members of their family and they’re intent on showing it. Michael claims to be a successful writer when in fact he’s a failure and has gotten divorced from his wife. Bridget tells everyone how successful she is when in fact she had never even completed going to college and is having an affair with a married man.

Malone loves putting the Early’s in each others faces. They kvetch, fight, act like children and put each other down without ever getting to the heart of their problems. They would all rather drink their way through the holidays than reveal the depth of their pain. Malone’s dialogue is funny, feisty and venomous.

The film is perfectly cast. Malone’s Michael is the ultimate charlatan. He can quickly deflect attention to someone else with a razor sharp line that cuts to the quick. But under the façade you can still see the little lost boy who is at the center of Michael’s soul. Melissa Revels is also tremendous as Bridget. She’s content to numb herself with booze and drugs rather than to tell people who she really is. Cindy Maples is also great as Michael and Bridget’s pill popping mom. She’s desperate to have a normal holiday dinner with her family in order to convince her that she raised her children right. There is also superb supporting work from Raymond Kester, Derik Zooashkiyani, Rich Ragains and Mike Drobzelecki.

“Bethlehem” is a rowdy adult comedy about trying to deal with the people who know just how vulnerable we really are inside. It’s funny, moving and above all, fiendishly entertaining. “Bethlehem” is a ton of sarcastic holiday fun.

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