A Sympathetic Comedy About Women at Work: “Support the Girls”
Lisa, the general manager of Double Whammies—a Hooters-esque sports bar off a busy highway in Texas—starts her day off crying. And as Andrew Bujalski’s sympathetically understated new comedy, Support the Girls, shows, things only get worse from there.
For starters, there’s a guy trapped in one of the restaurant’s air vents—a stowaway cousin of one of the line cooks. When they’re freeing him from the wall, the technicians accidentally knock out the restaurant’s cable—on a fight night, at a sports bar. It’s bad business.
Bad business means bad tips, and Lisa knows that her girls—most of them early twentysomethings, some with kids—can’t afford that. Which is one reason Lisa is organizing an impromptu car wash at the restaurant. She also wants to help one of her girls who’s having legal trouble—which isn’t really Lisa’s business. But that’s Lisa. “You like working here?” she asks Danyelle (Shayna McHayle, aka Junglepussy). Who, alongside Maci (Haley Lu Richardson), is one of Lisa’s most loyal employees. “I like working with you,” Danyelle qualifies.
Support the Girls is a movie about getting by—specifically, getting by as sexualized women in the service industry
That working at a local spot that’s about to be in the shadow of a corporate chain. Mancave, Double Whammies’ competitor, offers its customers the same thing. But higher quality: a side of T and A with every beer and burger, and cable TV that actually works.
But per usual with Bujalski—one of the low-budget forerunners in what, over a decade ago. We called the mumblecore movement—Support the Girls focuses, above all, on the inner workings of an odd little community. In the director’s granular, black-and-white Computer Chess (2013). That community was a coven of 1980s nerds tasked with beating a computer at chess. In the 2015 instant classic Results, it was a boutique gym and the rich, miserable slob, played by Kevin Corrigan. Who finds himself haplessly mixed up in its drama.
Watching Bujalski movies, watching his characters love and clash with each other, always feels like a spontaneous burst of pleasure. That like you’re bearing witness to something loose and improvised—yet also carefully controlled for effect, rigorously detailed with unadorned quirks and a thorough sense of character. There’s an authenticity to the way his characters interact: all the pratfalls and joys of their lives seem to come out in the ways these people talk to each other. Support the Girls is no exception.
Lisa, played with a perfectly calibrated mix of warmth and exhaustion by Regina Hall, has her own problems
That by the way—including a depressed husband, and an ignorant boss, Cubby (James Le Gros). Who in addition to making Lisa do much of his job has a discouragingly matter-of-fact attitude about, among other things, letting more than one single woman of color work the bar at once. This is a bar that prefers its girls perky and white—and none of its employees, least of all the black women, is under any illusions about that.
It’s also a bar whose No. 1 rule for its employees is No Drama, a bar where every waitress wears Daisy Duke shorts and bright pink tank tops. It’s a bar that sells sex, and no one is under any illusions about that, either—even though the bar’s got to be coy about it. You can touch the customers, but don’t squeeze or lead them on; this is a family restaurant. “If these guys wanted to go to a strip club,” says Lisa, who enforces these rules, “they know where to find them.”
Support the Girls is not a film that will benefit from overhype.
It’s a comedy without any belly laughs, and its charm lies in its quietest moments, much like with Bujalski’s last (also excellent) film, Results, which followed a languid romance between two personal trainers. But Support the Girls is an even more complete work, a story not just of workers but of a workplace; it has a profound sense of the space Lisa and her waitresses have to navigate, and of the quiet aggressions that lurk around every corner.
Among the pitch-perfect ensemble around Hall is the bright young talent Haley Lu Richardson (The Edge of Seventeen, Columbus) as the bubbly, bighearted Maci, whose personality belies a flinty toughness. The rapper Junglepussy (in an outstanding acting debut) plays Danyelle, Lisa’s take-no-prisoners deputy. Dylan Gelula (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) is grimly funny as Jennelle. A new hire who quickly figures out the fastest way to make a killing on tips within the restaurant’s misogynistic, Darwinian infrastructure.
But Hall, a Hollywood veteran who has only recently begun getting the respect she’s long deserved, is the star of the show.
Her work as the straitlaced buzzkill of last year’s smash hit Girls Trip was not just the best part of the movie. But also its emotional core (fantastic set pieces aside, that film doesn’t work without her big monologue at the end). In Support the Girls, she’s even better, underplaying the moments when the film threatens to become too obvious or self-righteous. Her deeply felt performance is the kind that too often gets ignored come awards season because of the lack of histrionics. But it’s intensely memorable nonetheless.
It’s difficult to make a work that confronts, or even acknowledges, the rusting but seemingly immovable structures of institutional sexism. It’s even harder to do that and address how race and class are inextricably bound up in those oppressive systems. And it’s even harder still to accomplish that without delivering a hectoring lecture to the audience. Support the Girls somehow manages to do it all, and in the form of a breezy, heartwarming workplace comedy to boot.
Rating: R (for language including sexual references, and brief nudity)
Directed By: Andrew Bujalski
Stars: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Dylan Gelula
Written By: Andrew Bujalski
In Theaters: Aug 24, 2018 Limited
Runtime: 90 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
CRITIC REVIEWS FOR SUPPORT THE GIRLS
Bujalski uses the past to make sense of the present… and the future.
Hall is a revelation (dominant in nearly every scene), and the rooftop climax is fittingly cathartic.
Support the Girls is a shrewdly observed, day-in-the-life-style portrait of a woman under pressure.
A neorealist take on our capitalist times, reaffirming the essential need for camaraderie every day of the working week.