Soldier’s Girl was one of those movies that was always on my list, yet I never got around to watching it. I’d read about the story and the impact it had on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the travesty of justice for Pvt. Winchell and the subsequent activism of Calpernia Addams. Something always came up and I had not yet watched it. I corrected that recently. In a rare occasion for The Backseat Driver Reviews, I’m going to gush my heart out about the performances of the film’s two main actors, Lee Pace and Troy Garity. Coming from a jaded prick like me, this is a massive compliment.
Very rarely do we get to see two actors that have insane chemistry, the kind of chemistry that makes me forget about things like lighting, pacing, and the other actors. Pace’s Calpernia and Garity’s Barry didn’t just work well together – they really sold me as two people falling in love. The first kiss between Calpernia and Barry? Beyond hot. It was everything a first kiss should be: slow, semi-awkward, and full of anticipation. This was just the beginning. From the first kiss to their regular interactions – glances, brush-ups, curled up in bed – they had me completely sold that they were a couple that deeply loved each other. So often, we see actors emoting written word and you can tell that they’re just actors saying lines: the kisses are awkward, and the absence of pure heat is palpable. With Pace and Garity, I didn’t see Pace or Garity; I saw Calpernia and Barry falling for each other. Kudos to them for achieving what so many other pairings can’t.
|Can’t tell you how many movies I’ve seen that can’t make a kiss work. These two nailed it.|
What Lee Pace lent to Calpernia was nothing short of raw, subtle power. The smallest touches made me believe he was a young woman falling in love. The way that Calpernia smiled after the first meeting in the dressing room with Barry was perfect: the broad, full-toothed smile, the slight chewing of the makeup brush, the twinkle in the eyes. This was someone who brought the heady experience of falling in love to life. Later in the film, as Calpernia walks toward Barry, the self-directed phrase, “poise, poise, confidence” brought a smile to my face because, internally, we’re all saying something along those lines when a paramour walks towards us. Pace’s eye roll and happy smile as Calpernia tells her friend,”Ginger, he’s from Kansas” – that’s the look of someone in love. There were moments of drama thrown in there as well: two standout moments include Barry’s discovery that Calpernia has male genitalia, and Barry’s discussion of not identifying as gay. In both instances, the delivery could have gone horribly wrong on Pace’s part. He could have gone over-the-top, or burst into tears. Instead, the quiet restraint he brought to the character made Calpernia feel lived-in, like someone who had been hurt and was afraid of going down that road again; someone who was human and couldn’t handle another hurt like that. Pace made Calpernia three-dimensional, relatable and fascinating without having to once reach for melodrama. Even when Calpernia was frustrated at her situation, frustrated with her body, baring her soul to Barry and, finally, screaming in mourning, Pace made sure to behave like a human being rather than a caricature.
|Not a single criticism for this performance.|
Troy Garity, though a bit more restrained, lent a lovely, tortured performance. Garity nailed the look of shy interest in dating someone: a bit gob-smacked, with wide eyes and a half-open smile. Once Calpernia and Barry begin their relationship, Garity’s Barry smiles and continues to project that he’s the luckiest bastard in the world. For their screen time, he looks at her like nothing else exists around them. The confusion he displays when first finding out that his intended isn’t fully what he expected is different than what another actor would have brought to it: rather than projecting pure horror, it’s more of a mixture of shock and surprise. Garity’s Barry is believable in continuing to pursue Pace’s Calpernia because he did not have an overly theatrical reaction to the revelation. The confession of love that Barry gives Calpernia gives the audience that moment that we still crave in many of our movies: we smile because we’re watching something beautiful unfold. That doesn’t happen when only one actor is bringing their A-game; Garity both balanced and enhanced Pace’s performance with quiet dignity. When we see Barry taking homophobic abuse silently in the absence of his beloved, we’re pained because Garity plays it as a man who wants to succeed in all areas. The army is his life, yet Calpernia is as well. We watch as he continues to feel lost, and we want his life to get better. We care about his Barry, even though he doesn’t always articulate how he feels the way Calpernia does. Garity wasn’t just one-half of a love story: he brought a person to life and made sure that we saw different facets.
This was a true pleasure to watch. Though I knew going into it that the story did not have a happy ending, I was grateful to see two actors put in performances that did justice to a couple that deserved better. It was respectful, raw and human. I applaud both actors for turning in top-notch performances that were equal parts beautiful and heartbreaking. I only wish I had watched this sooner.