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Oh, Bethlehem!

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I'm sure we all have memories of when the "black sheep" of the family took our Holiday celebration off-course, giving us one more reason to continue to look upon them in a less than ideal light. Now imagine a family where every single member is eminently qualified for the "black sheep of the family" designation. If you can do that, then you can begin to imagine Christmas with the Earlys.

Bethlehem (the title derived from the fact that this "dramedy" takes place in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) brings together several elements - any one of which would point to a dysfunctional family - in what you might think would seem like piling-on for comedic effect but in practice paints the situation as sad and reminds us that behind every house decked-out with Christmas decorations is a story of a family struggling to keep it together in a world more conducive to its falling apart. A cautionary tale of the evils of addiction and poor choices and the enduring patience and strength of the matriarch who - to spite the many shortcomings of this brood of bad-eggs - is hell-bent on hosting this family get together regardless of the inevitable consequences.

There is only one thing that could possibly bring this dysfunctional family together this year and that has to be love. Not the "heart on your sleeve", "god bless us every one", sappy, happy love but that deep, deep, down in your gut, unconditional "family" love that you can never escape no matter how hard you try.

Michael Malone weaves a grungy tapestry of hurt and hormones in the story of this family gone very very wrong. Those of us familiar with the wit and wisdom and the irreverent comedic stylings of Michael Malone have been eagerly anticipating the release of Bethlehem. This is certainly one of the more talked about independent films of the year and with this cast of characters is it any wonder? In addition to writing (along with Joshua Hull) and directing, Michael Malone plays eldest son Michael Early who earns the crown of "most level headed," an honor which is often debatable chiefly due to his penchant for getting stoned.

"Homemaker" and Mother, Carolyn Early is portrayed marvelously by Cindy Maples in a role that stretches from doting, motherly heart-to-hearts to sternly shouted expletives as her character overtly struggles with how little control she actually has over her family beyond extending the invitations to this hopeful event.

The baby of the family is in his late 20s, still living at home and - by all indications, most likely - not still breastfeeding. Bobby Early is played by Mike Dobrzelecki who tries his very best to steal the show by delivering carefully measured aspects of Elvis, Meatloaf, Baby Huey and just enough Karate Kid to win favor with his overtly absent, mistress toting, father Jack (played admirably by Raymond Kester.)

Melissa Revels delivers a delightful portrayal of middle-child Bridgett who could almost qualify as normal, but rest assured this is only what passes for normal in a family where "smoke-screen" seems to be the order of the day.

Uncle Raymond (endearingly characterized by Rich Ragains) lets his flaming love light shine and shows that he takes seriously his obligation to the family that dearly loves him in spite of his taste in sweaters.

JoAnn King White brings the character of Grandma to life as one who happily exists in her own little world and playfully invites all around her to join in the simpler pleasures reserved for those teetering on the verge of dementia. Grandma may well be the only guest in attendance truly happy to be there.

Of course this Christmas gathering would not be complete without their recently released, teardrop-tattooed, ex-con cousin Bryan (a role nailed by actor Derik Zooashkiyani) and his female companion.

The film does a masterful job of introducing the viewer to each member of this gathering, making us feel welcome among the madness. Once we begin to realize the volatile nature of this mixture of personalities the true magic of Christmas rears its ugly head. Just as you can mend a fraying rope by singeing its ends, so too can a family bond together at Christmas time.

This film is humorous without resorting to high-voltage lighting displays or ridiculously lubricated snow sleds. It delivers a profound message of love and family togetherness without resorting to angels getting wings or miracles 4 blocks north of 30th Street. Perhaps the most notable quality of Bethlehem is how relatable this messed up family is likely to be to everyone fortunate enough to watch this film. Destined to become a Christmas classic; one you should only watch with your children after they leave home or reach the age of 18 (whichever comes first.) [Officailly Rated R13 Offensive Language and Sexual Content]

Expertly lensed by David M. Brewer this feature packs amazing, big-time production value; a credit to all involved. Check out the complete list of cast and crew on IMDB and help spread the word about what is surely the unlikeliest connection ever between Bethlehem and Christmas.

Enjoy this Official Trailer with the knowledge it is not safe for work.

Official Trailer: https://youtu.be/P4ky4gNbO0M



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