Standing at an awkward crossroads between a polished, high-budget film and an average, well-intended queer indie flick, A Marine Story has a bit of an identity problem, but its heart is in the right place.
The story of a tough ex-Marine (played by The Gymnast favorite Dreya Weber) kicked out under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and her difficult assimilation into civilian life, it deftly showcases the difficulties of women in the modern military, though the plot unfortunately goes AWOL toward the end.
We first meet Alexandra (Weber) as she walks, military pack in tow, through a southwestern desert town. Every few moments, we see a flashback to her martial past – her deployments, her drills and her pride being an American soldier. She encounters old friends, buys a rusty car and stops a robbery at a tiny convenience store (badass Sarah Connor-style), prompting a few words from the town sheriff.
Clearly a stranger in a strange land, she’s miserable outside of the rigid confines of the Marine Corps. A product of a military family and a real diehard for the cause, her “honorable discharge” has left her with nothing but an empty house and a lack of direction. “What next?” asks a friend, while Alex shrugs and orders tequila.
Soon, she’s faced with a new challenge: One of the young criminals she accosted in the convenience store has a choice – military or jail – and her grandmother begs Alex to help her get ready for boot camp. Enter Saffron Snow (out actress Paris Pickard), a brooding young woman with a classic chip on her shoulder and difficult past — her entire family died in a car crash when she was young. She has one month to get in shape and Alex gladly takes the job.
The drill sergeant vs. headstrong kid dynamic has been played out, but it does work here. After a predictably rocky start, the two women develop a strong rapport, as Saffron takes to the training and to her hardcore (but certainly not unfeeling) mentor.
In between Karate Kid-style montage sequences of training young Snow, Alexandra reconnects with her friends from long past – Leo (Anthony Michael Jones), a small-town nice guy that she dated in high school, and Holly (Christine Mourad), her free-spirited best friend. She first comes out to Holly, explaining the details of her discharge and her sexuality (and is quickly accepted with a hug), but takes longer to explain it to Leo.
Leo, for his part, introduces Alex to a group of buddies, who are immediately skeptical of a female soldier’s abilities. Leo, ever on her side, encourages a bit of friendly arm-wrestling competition to prove them wrong, which escalates into a violent (and somewhat confusing) scene in which the lady Marine shows them all exactly what she’s made of. Afterward, the men immediately respect her (aside from a twerp named Dale), and she finds a happy camaraderie with her new pals.
She even becomes comfortable enough in her own skin to go out to a gay bar — a first for a woman who lived in the closet for so long — and meets a girl, whom she goes home with. They work well together, as a sort of yin and yang combination and they certainly do look nice together as well.
No matter how much progress she makes, she’s inevitably challenged with fending off ignorant jerks. Dale inexplicably runs her off the road one night as she walks home from the bar. That’s not enough bizarre abuse – he stalks and photographs her with her new girlfriend, then later, at a crucial climax-building point, distributes fliers of her with photos from that evening, juxtaposed with pictures of her hugging Saffron, sending the young girl back to her abusive, meth-smoking boyfriend.
A completely out-of-tone scene at the end of the movie sees Alex rampaging through the meth lab to save Saffron, complete with a near-rape and a massive explosion.