Funded through the generosity of 6,508 Kickstarter supporters, “Bridegroom” is more than just the triple-hankie account of a young love story cut short, but a compelling virtual petition in support of gay marriage and equal rights for same-sex partners. Inspired by the popular 11-minute YouTube video “It Could Happen to You,” this super-lo-fi yet highly emotional docu will have sympathetic eyes crying buckets as it recaps how “world’s cutest couple” candidates Shane Bitney Crone and Tom Bridegroom came out, met up and faced prejudice before and after Tom’s unexpected death. Fittingly, such grassroots filmmaking will earn followers organically over time.
After reaching many over the course of a summer-long festival run, during which it earned audience awards at Tribeca and four other sprocket operas, the touching docu opened on Oct. 4 in New York, to be followed by a few other theatrical stops. From its modest word-of-mouth origins to the impressive phenom the pic is shaping up to be, “Bridegroom” represents a best-case example of how available technology empowers outsider voices to share their own stories, resulting in a film sure to take on a life of its own as it finds its way to receptive auds.
Spearheaded by “Designing Women” co-creator Linda Bloodworth Thomason, whose mother died of AIDS contracted from a blood transfusion, the undeniably moving project — reminiscent of Jonathan Caouette’s “Tarnation” — adopts the familiar handmade style of Crone’s original YouTube short, told through photos, homemovies and tearjerking musical choices. (The film ups the ante by opening with Garth Brooks’ “The Dance,” but also incorporates original songs by Tom’s friends, including friend Colleen McMahon’s original tribute, “Beautiful Boy.”)
In lieu of telling the story via simple white captions, the docu relies on straightforward talking-head interviews with Crone’s family and the couple’s shared circle of friends, who describe how these two closeted small-town guys clicked when they met in Los Angeles, quickly forming the kind of relationship that romantics everywhere envy: They moved in together, adopted a stray dog in lieu of a child, started a social-media consulting business and traveled the world as a couple. It didn’t hurt that Tom, a charismatic model and actor, and Shane looked the part of clean-cut all-American boys.
Eventually, both young men found the courage to come out to their parents. Shane was surprised to find immediate support and understanding from his mother and, in time, his father, too. The way “Bridegroom” tells it (the title doubling as a comment on gay marriage and an accusation of sorts to others bearing that last name), Tom’s conservative parents were more conflicted, reacting with anger and denial, which grew even uglier after the twist that triggers the whole story: Six years into their storybook partnership and completely out of the blue, Tom fell off a four-story building and died.
To irreverent sorts, this tragedy might register as the sort of pratfall deserving of a Darwin Award, as this bright and exceptionally handsome young man backed himself over the edge of his apartment roof while snapping cheeky photos of a female friend. But here, it’s treated with appropriate solemnity, a devastating development in a relationship audiences can’t help but hope will succeed. Everyone involved was stunned, especially in the days that followed, as Crone discovered how unfair hospitals, the legal system and funerals can be to unmarried loved ones.
For the past decade or more, Crone has been compulsively documenting his life on video, which provides Bloodworth Thomason with a wealth of intimate footage (augmented by photos, text messages and other new-media ingredients) from which to build her loving portrait of the couple. Without sacrificing the personal feel of Shane’s YouTube short, the feature achieves a deeper and more well-rounded portrait of all involved, despite the non-participation of the Bridegroom family, at whom the pic is seemingly aimed.
It may not be balanced or especially sophisticated filmmaking, suffering from a misty-eyed oversimplification of what relationships (gay or straight) actually demand. But for many, it’s precisely the sort of emotional eye-opener needed for young people to find inspiration and naysayers to reconsider their attitudes.