‘Bitter Melon’ Review: Filipino-American Brothers Go Home for the Holidays

“Bitter Melon” is a family recriminations drama distinguished mainly by being set among an ethnic group that is underrepresented onscreen, Filipino-Americans, and by its willingness to roil a holiday formula by going to some disturbing places.

Declan (Jon Norman Schneider) has flown in from New York, Moe (Brian Rivera) from Philadelphia. The gentrifying city they were raised in has changed — the home front, not so much. Troy (Patrick Epino), who still lives with their mother (Josephine de Jesus), has never left, unlike the brothers’ abusive father, who abandoned them long ago.

H.P. Mendoza, who wrote and directed, employs a fidgety camera style and jumpy editing that initially telegraph wackiness, particularly in the early gathering and celebration scenes, which come replete with a search for a green tea Kit-Kat and a Skype call to the Philippines.

But “Bitter Melon” is not generally a comedy. We learn of Moe’s past as a drug user and the clan’s inability to accept Declan’s gayness. We also learn that Troy batters his wife, Shelly (Theresa Navarro), violence that rocks the entire household.

Although the first hour of “Bitter Melon” is a spiky and absorbing story of repressed feelings, the movie grinds to a halt in its final third as the characters talk things out, which might be helpful in life but in drama tends to belabor the obvious, as well as offer an easy exit. The climax here, backtracking on a daring idea, shows a wobbly grasp of tone.

Bitter Melon

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Movie data powered by IMDb.com

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes.

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