One year after Shane Crone’s life partner of six years, 29-year-old Tom, fell from the roof of a four-story building and suffered fatal injuries, Shane posted a ten-minute video at YouTube. The video, titled "It Could Happen to You," was a heartbreaking account of the tragedy, detailing the couple’s life together and talking about how Shane had been denied access to Tom at the hospital, and how Tom’s parents didn’t want him at the funeral.
Shane’s video went viral, and now Linda Bloodworth Thomason has created a documentary, "Bridegroom," to tell the whole story.
Shane grew up in Kalispell, Montana; as he relates in the film, he first realized he was gay while watching the film "Philadelphia." Thinking that liking other boys meant he as going to die of AIDS, Shane started experiencing panic attacks. Later, in high school, he wrote a love note to his best friend -- and quickly found himself shunned at school and banned from sports events trips.
Tom’s story was quite different. Hailing from Knox, Indiana, Tom excelled at everything he undertook. Confident and charismatic, Tom enrolled in a military academy high school, where he came out to a close female friend during his junior year. Tom attended college at Vassar, where his leadership abilities and athletic talents, as well as his accepting and happy personality, won him friends.
Both young men ended up in Los Angeles, where a mutual friend fixed them up. It took some time, but eventually the two fell in love, moved in together, and started up their own business. They also saw the world, traveling on the cheap, and posted their adventures online in a series of videos.
These videos, and Shane’s video diary, provide indispensable footage for the documentary. The portrait painted here -- underscored by interviews with friends and Shane’s family (Tom’s family declined an invitation to appear) -- is one of two bright, exceptionally talented young men who were lucky enough to find their missing halves and true loves in one another. "What one couldn’t think of," one friend says, "the other could."
Noting that her son’s anxieties receded and his confidence soared during his time with Tom, Shane’s mother tells the camera, "He was more of a man" while partnered with his significant other.
Tom’s parents were far less understanding. After seeing Shane come out to his mother, who was completely accepting, Tom hoped he could also draw such support from his own family. It didn’t happen: According to the documentary, Tom told the tale of how his father, Norman, "pulled a shotgun" on him once he disclosed that he was gay.
Though Tom’s mother, Martha, eventually made her peace with Tom -- or seemed to -- and even warmed up to Shane, when tragedy struck Tom’s family pulled away. Martha did return to Los Angeles to claim her son’s body, and she reportedly seemed to draw solace from Shane and the couple’s friends. Once she returned to Indiana with Tom’s remains there was no more contact between Tom and Shane’s family -- except for a phone call in which one of Tom’s relations warned Shane not to attend the funeral, because Tom’s father and an uncle were conspiring to assault him if he did.
The focus remains on Shane and Tom: Who they were, what they meant to each other, the life they had and might have had together in the future. But there’s another potent message to this love story: How same-sex families are left vulnerable to enormous harm by being denied the same rights and protections of legal marriage that heterosexuals don’t think twice about. Change is happening, and happening fast -- but it didn’t happen fast enough to help Shane and Tom. Indeed, had Proposition 8 (which snatched the existing right to marry from California families in 2008, a right that was not restored until this year) never been passed at the ballot box, Shane and Tom may well have wed, and that would have spared Shane some of the devastation that he endured.
This being a documentary, there’d be little point in additional interviews or behind-the-scenes featurettes. The DVD’s extras are limited to a handful of public service announcements (for groups like The Trevor Project, DoSomething.org, GLAAD, etc.) and a trailer for the doc.
Whether you live in a marriage equality state or the Dark Ages, this is a title worth adding to your shelf -- right alongside equality classics like "Saving Marriage" and "Question One."