Soldier’s Girl (2003)

Soldier's Girl (2003)
 Dir. Frank Pierson
 Writ. Ron Nyswaner
 Stars: Troy Garity, Lee Pace
 Rated R
 112 mins.
 Romance, Drama, Queer film
 IMDB: 8.1

I lost a bet with this one, guys. I mean I did want to see it, but because I knew the story of Barry Winchell I knew how it ended so the reason I finally watched this is because my friend Abigail bet me she could watch The Imitation Game without crying (she’s a dirty liar, she did cry, she just forced herself not to cry until the movie was over) I had to watch this one.

I’m so glad I watched this movie.

There’s a sort of disconnect on the levels of ‘how good is a movie?’ and ‘how good is a queer movie?’ because generally there’s a different scale to judge queer films by. Lesbian films have a slightly better track record than gay films (transgender films are so few and far between I have no gauge for those), so in general, queer films can only be judged against each other to determine ‘is this a good movie or not?’ because even my favorite queer films are usually a ‘decent’ compared to ALL movies.

I can honestly say that Soldier’s Girl is of those movies that it doesn’t NEED to be judged against other queer films to tell you it’s an amazing movie.

Soldier’s Girl tells the story of PFC Barry Winchell, a 22-year-old infantryman from Kansas stationed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky in 1998. After his friends on base take him to a night club with transgender performers in Nashville in 1999, Barry meets Calpernia Addams, a transgender woman performing at the club, who also happened to be a former Navy hospital corpsman and veteran of the Gulf War. The movie covers Barry dealing with falling in love with a woman that is transgender, dealing with the rumors about him being homosexual going around the base (remember, 1999, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a thing), and the fact he was trying to impress his superiors and be an outstanding soldier all at the same time.

It’s not a spoiler to tell you that it doesn’t end well. The Winchell case was a big deal at the time, so you can imagine quite well how the story ends for Barry Winchell, but for the sake of SOME non-spoilering, I won’t describe what happens other than to say it is something that is still disgustingly common today.

I don’t even know where to begin with Soldier’s Girl. As much as I’ve highlighted the obvious not-awesome ending, I don’t want you to think this movie is the usual queer film tragedy the whole way through. It’s honestly – up until the last 15 minutes maybe – the sweetest movie I’ve seen in a long time. Not just super sweet for a queer film, but so beautiful for any romance movie. The way this movie depicts Barry and Calpernia’s love is so amazing and beautiful. It’s just incredibly sweet.

As good as Troy Garity is, the crazy performance amazingness in this movie was Lee Pace as Calpernia. It’s crazy to think this was Pace’s first movie because this performance was crazy beautiful. The way a young actor in his first film role could slip into being a woman so easily is just insane. There are certain mannerisms that even actual transgender women have to learn over months and years so they can use them for the rest of their lives that Pace managed to adapt to in weeks for the filming of a movie. Truly great acting is acting where the actor disappears and they are ONLY that character. Pace was not a man playing Calpernia Addams, Pace was Calpernia Addams. Honestly one of the best acting performances I’ve ever seen.

This movie was beautiful right up until the tragedy, and the story it tells is one that it still disgusts me to think really happened to a young man who did nothing but fall in love with a woman that was a little different than other women. There’s something Calpernia says in the movie that I feel is definitely worth quoting.

“The imagination is the most powerful force known to mankind. And it is my imagined self, the one who is beautiful and loving and worthy of being loved, that has been my guiding force. My inspiration. I can only hope to become the person Barry imagined me to be. I pray for the courage it will take to become a real, live soldier’s girl.” – Calpernia Addams (Soldier’s Girl)

I think this movie shows how beautiful and loving and worthy of being loved Calpernia Addams is perfectly. It’s the best possible depiction of the story I could imagine ever seeing, and honestly I recommend you all go watch this movie right now.

My Rating: 7/10

About J. Chelsea Williford

Movie addict, reader, writer, pop culture lover.
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