‘Support the Girls’ Shows Sympathy Toward Deeply Flawed Characters

‘Support the Girls’ Shows Sympathy Toward Deeply Flawed Characters August 24, 2018

By Christian Hamaker

Image: Magnolia

Waitressing is hard, and so is running a restaurant—especially when you’re a woman working for a “sports bar with curves.” The contradictions in Support the Girls, the new film from writer/director Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess, Beeswax), are legion, but the film plays lightly as it investigates several women’s unapologetic attempts to earn a living, raise a family and deal with often doltish men who hold them back. Yet what sounds like a social-issues drama is instead a largely humorous, at times uplifting, look at the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyles of characters who are willing to be exploited if that’s what it takes to raise their children and sustain relationships.

Lisa (Regina Hall) spends her days at Double Whammies, where the waitresses dress in short shorts and cleavage-revealing outfits to appease their mostly male customers. “Do you get grabbed?” asks one aspiring Whammies waitress during an interview. “It happens,” she’s told, but “we have a zero-tolerance policy”—not to mention a list of Whammies Girls Golden Rules (Number 1 rule: “NO DRAMA.”). When one worker refers to another woman as a “dumb b–ch,” Lisa admonishes her, “Don’t use that word!”

“This is a mainstream place, a family place,” Lisa reassures her newest charges, and indeed, we’ll later see a family dining there. They’re the exception. Double Whammies customers are closer to burly and gruff men, in groups or dining (and ogling) alone. One such patron makes a sexist comment to a Double Whammies waitress, is ordered by Lisa to leave, and makes a scene—in front of the police—on his way out the door. Then there’s a mystery man who, in the film’s opening sequence, is heard in the restaurant’s ductwork, where he’s been stuck overnight after an apparent attempted robbery.

The man’s identity won’t be confirmed by the characters, or viewers, until much later, but as the story begins, he’s just another obstacle getting in the way of Lisa doing her job. “Can I open for business?” she asks the officers who arrive to extract the perpetrator. “Thank the Lord!” she exclaims when they say yes.

While the new waitresses grill long-timers Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) and Danyelle (Shayna McHale) on how often they should smile for customers and on the extent of flirting required to get a bigger tip from their nearly all-male clientele, Lisa tries to preserve the idea that she “supports the girls.” She allows one waitress to bring her sick child to work for the day and enlists her new hires to don their uniforms right after their interviews and help out with a same-day car-wash—a fundraiser hastily assembled by Lisa for a down-on-her luck employee.

Lisa’s insistence on respectable outward appearances (with very flexible limits) and language extends to her home life, where things are strained with her husband. In one of the few sequences that takes viewers outside the Double Whammies environment, we watch the couple apartment hunt and can see how the usually perceptive Lisa is suppressing the troubling cues in her marital life. Perhaps the next step in their lives might not be a shared step.

She’s also at odds with another male in her life, Ben Cubby (James Le Gros), the owner of Double Whammies who has struggles beyond keeping his restaurant going. Their clipped discussions point to a long-simmering adversarial relationship, with Lisa bearing the brunt of other stresses in Ben’s life.

Support the Girls is another step forward for Bujalski, who made a name with the little seen but landmark “mumblecore” movies Mutual Appreciation and Funny Ha Ha. His more recent films reflect his maturation as a writer and a move toward working with name actors. His 2015 film, Results, starred Guy Pearce (Alien: Covenant), and Girls stars not only up-and-comer Haley Lu Richardson, who shined in last year’s Columbus, but Regina Hall, from mainstream hits like Girls Trip, The Best Man Holiday and Think Like a Man.

Support the Girls feels closer in spirit to Bujalski’s enjoyable mumblecore talkathons than it does to Hall’s recent mainstream hits, but its low-key approach will be more to the tastes of those who don’t appreciate the aggressive quality of today’s studio comedies. Girls may not be essential big-screen viewing—Bujalski’s unmemorable compositions are one of the filmmaker’s weaknesses—but with performances as good as he draws from his actors, Support is worthy of your own support, especially if you enjoy watching the evolution of a promising filmmaker.

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