In the age of exploitative ‘reality TV’, a documentary that bears even a passing resemblance to the much-maligned genre is likely to be instinctively associated with it. The documentary Andrew and Jeremy Get Married, by the acclaimed veteran director Don Boyd, a former Derek Jarman collaborator, ‘looks like’ reality TV, but fortunately the similarities end there. This is much more sensitive, life-affirming, humane material that fits more comfortably into the tradition of cinema verité than cheap, trashy exploitation TV.
Boyd followed a couple of gay men during several months after persuading them to agree to be filmed as long as he could retain complete editorial control over the material. Boyd met the couple, the working-class, ex-heroin addict 49-year-old Andrew and the patrician, erudite 69 year-old Jeremy, at a dinner party at the house of writer Hanif Kureishi in the summer of 2003. Jeremy, a loveable, warm man of letters, had been friends with Kureishi’s father, and he played an instrumental role in stimulating the teenage Kureishi to start writing.
Boyd says that the unlikeliness of the pairing is what intrigued him about them. This is signified throughout via the editing, although Boyd had the good taste to avoid turning the film into another tired dissection of British class differences. What we see is more a study in character than in social standing. For instance, Andrew remarks that Jeremy ‘didn’t get’ the film Matrix ‘from the start’ when commenting on their different tastes in film. We hear Jeremy recounting his early days when he struggled to come to terms with his homosexuality and how he nearly got married in his youth, often making comments that reveal a great sense of humour and a positive personality. Boyd’s camerawork is subtle and the subjects rarely ‘perform’ for it or address it directly. Instead, we follow them through several different situations: a visit Andrew pays to childhood friends in south-east London, a trip to Palm Springs, a garden party and, as the title promises, their partnership ceremony at the Great London Authority.
Throughout the film, Boyd reveals a keen eye for detail, a fine sense of timing and an editing style that creates many moments of tenderness and endearment for the central characters. He also constantly sprinkles the narrative with humour and sympathy, both towards Andrew and Jeremy, as well as the accidental subjects who walk in and out of the screen. The film doesn’t resort to a conflict-and-resolution type of narrative. Instead it flows in a pleasant and extremely engaging manner solely on the back of non-manipulated reality.
Andrew and Jeremy Get Married is a welcome break from the misanthropic fare that too often pervades the small and big screens these days, as well as a diversion from the subtle homophobia found on British television and cinema. It also makes a good case for gay weddings without being rhetorical. Hopefully reality TV producers across the country will learn a few lessons from Boyd.