If you haven’t heard of Bridegroom, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of wedding comedy in the vein of the dreadful Katherine Heigl film The Big Wedding. Instead, our titular Bridegroom here refers to Tom Bridegroom, partner of Shane Bitney Crone. Shane and Tom lived in Los Angeles and were deeply in love, building their careers and travelling the world. Then Tom died in a tragic accident, and the bottom fell out of Shane’s world. But that’s not the saddest part of the story; what happened next, with Shane being banned from attending his soulmate’s funeral and being threatened with violence by the Bridegroom family, makes for a harrowing watch; the final kick in the teeth is, of course, the fact that Shane had no legal ground to stand on.
The documentary unfolds in a linear style, telling both Shane and Tom’s stories of growing up in the American heartland and the pain and heartache that ensued as they both came to terms with their sexuality in environments deeply hostile to LGBTQ people. Shane fares better than Tom here; his family, after the initial shock, accept him totally. Tom, on the other hand, is more or less ostracized by everyone except his mother, who eventually admits a tacit acceptance of his true self. This all changes after Tom’s death, as his family close ranks and bury Tom with full military honours – denying who he really was and denying those closest to him the right to say goodbye.
Bridegroom is brought to us by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, one-time creator and writer of hit sitcom ‘Designing Women’ and long-time friend to the gays. It’s well documented that during the run of the show, Bloodworth-Thomason would have Julia Sugarbaker, played with haughty Southern perfection by Dixie Carter, espouse progressive, liberal values. Carter herself was a registered Republican so not all of these leftie diatribes went down too well with her. Still, they struck a deal: Dixie would say whatever the writers wanted as long as she got to sing in at least one episode each season!
Jokes aside, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason used her cuddly sitcom about Atlanta interior designers to make some groundbreaking statements on television in the late 80s. The episode in which the ladies find out a family friend is both gay and has AIDS not only showed care and compassion towards the subject instead of outright fear and anger, but also put our characters in the position of having to deal with other narrow-minded bigots.
Bloodworth-Thomason apparently ran into Tom and Shane at a wedding in Palm Springs and was later saddened to hear of Tom’s death. When she investigated further and found out the full story, she and Tom decided to collaborate on this documentary.
At times, Bridegroom isn’t an easy watch. It’s brutally honest and the subject matter will have you in tears many times throughout. But it ends on a message of hope; thousands of people contributed to Kickstarter to ensure Bridegroom got made, and as the credits roll we are shown messages from people who have seen the film and have been moved by it – most memorable are those that say they were prejudiced against gay people and have completely reversed their position after seeing Bridegroom.
Bridegroom is at its heart a love story, a relatable and human tale of love found and lost between two soulmates; but it also serves as a beacon of hope for the world and an appeal for love in the greatest sense between all human beings.