Review: Bridegroom (USA – 2013)

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Director: Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Screenwriters: Linda Bloodworth-Thomason & Shane Bitney Crone
Based on It Could Happen to You, a short video (see 2nd video below)
Runtime: 80 min // Certificate: N/A

A feature-length version of Shane Bitney Crone’s YouTube video “It Could Happen to You”, Bridegroom tells the story of Crone and his partner of six years, Tom Bridegroom, who fell to his death in a tragic accident just a few years ago. In the wake of his partner’s death, Crone was shut out by Tom’s family, refused permission to attend Tom’s funeral and had to watch as Tom’s mother took her son’s possessions away, which she was legally allowed to do because the two men weren’t married, or indeed even allowed to marry.

What Crone’s story tells us is that, irrespective of what certain people might tell you, equal rights are always “important”. In the United Kingdom the current government – a Conservative government no less – recently passed legislation to allow same-sex marriages, continuing a march towards LGBT equality that started under the previous administration. One of the most notable arguments against the move was that there were “more important” issues to focus on – immigration, crime, the economy – yet as Bridegroom proves, the issue goes far beyond simply allowing two people to marry. What happened to Crone in the wake of his partner’s death is abhorrent, and anyone who claims to have a belief in equality should condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Bridegroom’s purpose is to stress how unjust the law can be and how important it is that we work together to get it changed.

However, the unfortunate truth is that this tragic tale doesn’t work when told via the medium of a feature-length documentary. It clocks in at less than 80 minutes minus credits, and in that time we get little more than a simplistic snapshot of a relationship that none of us can invest in properly. The rise of the “YouTube generation” has resulted in a severe increase in narcissism and though I don’t doubt Crone’s sincerity for a second, the problem is that his film is – at least until the last ten minutes – insular and navel-gazing. The man’s pure love for Tom is obvious – which is, of course, admirable – but while watching Bridegroom I couldn’t help but feel like I was intruding. This isn’t just a personal story, it’s a personal documentary; it has been made, primarily, to honour Tom’s memory and to give Shane some closure, which is fine, but it doesn’t make for engaging, or even interesting, viewing.

The problem is that Crone – though clearly a generous, kind-hearted man with great intentions – doesn’t seem all that interested in the politics of what happened. The manner in which he was treated by Tom’s parents, who had the law on their side, was abhorrent, and though the film (eventually) makes a point about the denial of basic rights and protections to same-sex couples, it doesn’t stress it with much vigour or passion. The film, unlike the original video, seems less like a documentary than it does a tribute to Tom; it’s all about the relationship, about how much Crone loves / misses Tom and how awful Tom’s parents were to the two of them. Again, this is fine but it doesn’t make for a particularly interesting film for anyone outside of their friendship group to watch. It is, in essence, the cinematic equivalent of a women’s lifestyle magazine. I know it’s a coping mechanism for a lot of people but I just can’t listen to people talk about soul mates, about how someone is in a “better place” or attacking religion from the perspective of their own religious beliefs.

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However, don’t get me wrong, the story is obviously a modern day tragedy. When I watched the original YouTube video I was a complete wreck, and anyone who doesn’t feel at least some empathy with the story is quite evidently a total dickhead. Alas, Bridegroom is put together in such a slapdash, amateurish manner that it almost makes Shane’s love for Tom feel false, which it wasn’t, which makes the manner in which it is portrayed all the more confusing and disappointing. The injustices that followed Tom’s death are well-documented and will turn even the strongest of stomachs, but the film skirts around them so much that it almost feels pointless. Fair enough, the final ten minutes will be informative to anyone who doesn’t know how the law works but the 65-minute build-up to those moments feels redundant and lazy.

Yet, despite all of this, I’m glad Bridegroom exists. Anyone who thinks that equality has been achieved and that LGBT rights are no longer an issue (a belief perpetuated by both conservatives and liberals these days) needs to watch this to see just how far we still need to go. It is, if little else, a film that look at how the religious right uses a belief in a work of fiction to excuse their crass, vicious hatred of humanity. And it’s humanity that ultimately drives Bridegroom, not sexuality. It’s a tale of love; the most powerful human emotion, and something we can all go out of our way to defend.

Sure, Bridegroom is manipulative, cheap and mostly uninteresting, but the story of these two men is one that does need to be told. I applaud Crone’s courage in telling his story, and I hope his film goes some way to making Tom’s parents feel a deep shame for what they did… though I shant hold my breath. I just think that the original video, which was a powerful and heart-breaking little film, was much more effective at telling said story.