Bridegroom (2013) (R)

Even though it was a limited release and shot on almost no budget, starting out as a Youtube viral video, "Bridegroom" has become one of the most talked about documentaries of the year...why is that? It could be because of the narrative tone—the mournful, weeping style that the movie sometimes overindulges in. It could be the fact that a current political issue is tackled without hesitancy and a completely biased opinion is given without shame (perhaps justifiably so). But I think the real reason that "Bridegroom" is a success is because of the connection it makes with its viewer. It's not a perfect film, far from it in fact. It feels like an amateur work, carried out by friends and family...and for that, it is great. It doesn't need the big-budget feel, it doesn't need the huge orchestras, the intimate feeling that the movie generates is the point of being hypnotic. And yes, it is tragic.
The movie tells the story of two men who were in love. Both came from a small town setting where being gay was not a thing to be proud of. Both of them moved to California...their names were Shane and Tom.
The film's opening, which is a pretty clumsy prologue lets us know what's coming later on in the story—on a sunset evening in 2011, a man fell off a four-story roof to his death below. What he left behind were memories and heart-ache...this was Tom.
We get backstory of Tom and Shane, which will lead up to the death. Most of it concerns Shane, since he is the surviving of the two. In this regard, "Bridegroom" could be seen as a love letter from Shane to Tom, because of how it begins and how it ends.
Shane was a troubled child. He tells us his own struggle of coming to grips with his sexuality, ironically involving the Tom Hanks movie "Philadelphia". When he was growing up, he was stuck inside a shell, blanketing all his emotions. Several times he would become suicidal and he often called 9-1-1 during severe panic attacks which would leave him breathless and gagging. When it came out to his cohorts that he was gay...the results were less than desirable. They bullied, teased, and harassed him.
So he moved to California.
Then there's Tom—the almost-all-American boy. He went to military school, was athletic, good-looking, and a person of infectious joy. Everyone loved Tom.
These two met and started a relationship. Tom saved Shane.
Then came the death.
"Bridegroom" could have felt like a rally for gay marriage, in fact that is the whole point of the film; but instead of pounding that idea into the viewer's head, the film is more about a painful loss and the results thereof than a political movement. The devastation that people have because of Tom's death is palpable and entirely grief-striken. It probably hit Shane the hardest.
Tom's family refused to acknowledge their son for a long time, but things were looking better before Tom's death. Yet as soon as he had passed, everything went back to "normal". Shane had no legal standing because the two weren't married, even though they had exchanged rings and pledged marriage to each other when it became legal. Tom's family came and took everything of Tom's away, leaving Shane missing a large part of his life.
This is where the marriage argument begins—if they were only married, the resulting chaos and tragedy could have been avoided. Shane was not invited to the funeral, wasn't mentioned during the burial process, and was cut off completely from Tom's family.
"Bridegroom" tells a story that is so filled with pain, that it's impossible to not watch it without tearing up. Parts of it feel overstated, some of it is awkward, but most of the film is surprisingly solid.
When the final frames are going by, the viewer questions themselves—if the most important person in your life died, how could you handle it?
Shane deserves respect for turning his mourning into something better. You don't have to agree with the film's politics to understand the misfortune.
Perhaps it's best said by a woman interviewed, who says offhandedly: "It's not a gay thing. It's not a straight thing. It's a human thing."
The beginner filmmaking feel the film has is due to director Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. She has no directed many things, but her writing credentials are quite impressive. She has told that she was captured by the original viral video (entitled "IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU") and knew she needed to tell this story.
As depressing as the film is, there is a sliver of light that creeps in and reminds us, however cliche it might be, that life moves one...slowly and surely.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

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