It seems pointless to critique or analyze a film as heartbreaking as Bridegroom. Really all that needs to be said is that you will undoubtedly watch the last half through tears. By taking an individual story and telling it simply and straightforwardly the filmmakers, principally Linda Bloodworth Thomason of Designing Women fame, provide a clear, concise and emotional illustration of just how much the gay rights movement has yet to accomplish. The final credits are a bit heavy-handed - the point has already been made quite effectively - but that may just have been an attempt to turn a sobbing audience's pain into righteous anger; much in the manner that Julia's rants on Designing Women made their call to action through laughter.
At it's heart Bridegroom is a love story and it is a charming one. From our bubble in Canada, even more bubbly in Toronto, a lot of the first sections seems almost quaint. And then the unthinkable happens and we are brutally reminded of just how fragile our bubble is and how it certainly doesn't extend worldwide, definitely not as far as the US midwest. It is truly horrifying to realize that the events Bridegroom illustrates happened in 2011 instead of the dark ages of the '50s. The main protagonist Shane, also an executive producer, begins as a classic tortured gay and the almost embarrassing intimacy of his bordering on self-indulgent/self-aware video diaries can be a bit difficult to take - while driving and emoting he notes, "I'm going to pretend to be on my cell phone so it doesn't look like I'm talking to myself." It is far more effective when his friends and family speak and the true horror of the story is explained instead of projected.
The partners Shane and Tom are perfect poster children for gay rights and gay marriage. Visually they could be Corbin Fisher frat boys - blond, blue-eyed and clean-cut - and that makes it dicey as to whether a gay audience will identify with them but it does makes it impossible for a mainstream audience to not root for them, and that is the point. Intertwining their pre-meeting biographies - Shane who struggles with and suffers horribly for his gayness, Tom who initially appears to learn to live successfully in a gilded closet - offers two textbook tales of coming out. The interviews with their friends and Shane's family set it in a wider context and make the stories universal. When a friend says, "No-one sits in their room dreaming about wearing that special white dress to their domestic partnership ceremony," the argument for same-sex marriage is made with sheer eloquent simplicity.
It is not a spoiler to alert potential viewers that tragedy strikes - the film is structured with a big reveal right at the beginning which makes what follows even more harrowing - but Bridegroom is careful not to demonize and even the chief villain, Tom's mother Martha, receives more compassion than is deserved. It is the matter-of-fact tone and the documentary style of the film, the camera angles and editing are deceptively simplistic, that makes the emotional impact so intense. An interviewed friend says, "They were the kind of couple that made you believe in love," and Bridegroom makes the audience believe in love. And that is a very good thing but be warned, you will need Kleenex.