A Soldier’s Girl is based on a tragic true story, about the affair between a soldier, Pvt. Barry Winchell, falling for a “local girl” who is a transgender nightclub singer named Calpernia Addams. Calpernia, refreshingly, is comfortable with who she is. She exudes confidence in her onstage persona, and is good at what she does (she ended up being crowned some sort of Miss Tennessee—of the not-biologically female sort). In her personal life, Calpernia (Lee Pace) is a realist, knowing that many people can’t handle who she is. So when a group of soldier boys come to the drag show on a lark, she is rather shocked and flattered at the genuine interest from one Barry Winchell (Troy Garity), a handsome, masculine, and old-fashioned All-American boy.
Barry knows pretty much from the start what Calpernia is (despite his attraction, Barry’s first encounter with, um, Calpernia’s residual male-ness is well-handled in the film). He tries to keep his personal life completely separate from his life on the base. His buddies know what is going on, but it is his roommate Justin Fisher’s (the frighteningly good Shawn Hatosy) passive-aggressive interest in Barry’s life which serves as a catalyst for an inevitably bad (and shocking) conclusion to the affair.
Both leads, Troy Garity and Lee Pace, were also nominated for Golden Globes. Though the role of Calpernia is the more showy, it is Garity’s central performance of Winchell that needs to carry the story, and he is very very good. There is a heartbreaking scene in Calpernia’s kitchen where the pressure of the military’s intolerance starts to eat at Barry, and he finally breaks down. Calpernia could see this moment coming from the start, but Winchell’s realization that their relationship can’t be accepted for what it is, is truly heart-wrenching.
Soldier has the added punch of being based on a true story that was splashed across the headlines at the time. Perhaps that makes it feel more immediate and raw. Or perhaps that it is just a really well-made and acted movie that makes it such a relatable and effective tragic love story.