Monday, November 11, 2013

Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's BRIDEGROOM is both love story and cautionary tale for gay times

BRIDEGROOM begins with a four-story fall by a fellow who, had he lived a bit longer most likely would have become a bridegroom -- of another bridegroom, in a gay marriage that, from most of what we can ascertain from this very moving and provocative documentary, was "made in heaven," as the saying goes. The young man's name, not coincidentally, was Tom Bridegroom, and on the tombstone with which his fundamentalist Christian family has provided him in death, the word Bridegroom appears so large across the top that it seems to have a definite Christian connotation, as perhaps some kind of "bridegroom of Christ." Except that said family has refused to even acknowledge its son's homosexuality or allow his partner of several years to attend the funeral of his companion.

As directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (shown at left, and yes, she's the famous TV series-producer and friend of Bill & Hillary Clinton), the documen-tary tells the tale of Tom and his lover and companion Shane Bitney Crone, their histories, both growing up and then together -- once they had met, fallen in love and finally shared living quarters. The first half of the film is the strongest, as we get to know these two young men as they grew up in quite different situations: one a golden boy, the other more and more an outcast. By the time they finally meet, you're bound to feel they were, if not made for each other, then remarkably compatible -- something like salt and pepper or maybe cinnamon and sugar.

The film begins with Tom' accidental fall from a roof as he is photographing a mutual friend, then backtracks to the boys growing up, moving to California (Tom from Indiana, Shane from Montana) and finally tracking their life together, as first Shane and then Tom comes out to their respective families. Those families' reactions could hardly be more different, and the final half hour of the film becomes the kind of cautionary tale gays fear most: having no legal rights to anything to do with or about your partner, should something like death or traumatic injury occur.

The two young men come across as models of a stable, caring, loving relationship. Maybe just a tad too much so. When we finally learn that, on the morning of the day that Tom died, the guys had an argument, this comes as both a surprise and a relief. Up to now, what we've seen has been all too perfect. It would have helped matters had the filmmaker and any of the many friends interviewed come up with a negative or two, maybe a problem that had to be worked out, just to make these fellows a bit more plausible.

I don't doubt that Shane and Tom made up a rather extraordinary couple, but what we see here is a tad too close to love-story hagiography. Even the subject of that argument is never mentioned, only the fact that it happened and was settled and they were back to lovey-dovey by the time of the fall. Of course, death is indeed the great purifier: Parents who were nightmares in life suddenly become worth crying over; and spouses are often no different. When a relationship was a good as this one seems to have been, little wonder Shane (below) is still working on coming to terms with his loss.

Ms Bloodworth-Thomason uses her subjects and their interviews well, cobbling together a picture of society's outsiders as very much worth knowing. Because Tom is gone, Shane get most of the action footage, though both boys/men and their families seemed to have kept pretty good photographic records. There is, however, a little too much reliance on Tom's handsome face (below), which is used so much that it finally becomes something like filler.

Though only 79 minutes long (with a few of these devoted to a fast scroll of the thousands of Kickstarter contributors to the film), the final fifteen minutes seem extended beyond what is necessary. This is too bad because the documentary's first half is particularly strong, while its second half becomes, without undue drum beating, a case study in what can happen when there is no law in place to protect gay marriage. As one of the quotes on the poster above proclaims, this film just might have "the power to change hearts and minds."

Bridegroom -- in theaters only last month -- has arrived on Netflix streaming in very speedy fashion.and is definitely worth a watch. (It'll be out on DVD November 19.)

Note: the photo above of Ms Bloodworth-Thomason 
is by Craig Barritt, courtesy of Getty Images.

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