Cast: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, James Le Gros, Lea DeLaria, Dylan Gelula, Zoe Graham
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
The dichotomy between the professional and personal has always been a staple of writer-director Andrew Bujalski's filmography; from the struggling thirty-somethings of Beeswax to the idiosyncratic nerd culture featured in Computer Chess. His previous feature, Results, was an attempt at making something more mainstream while also getting at his growing sociological interests, and it proved he could straddle both worlds. With Support the Girls, this transition is complete in a film which hits the appropriately crowd-pleasing beats while also examining the plight of working-class Americans.
Taking place over a single day and set mostly inside a fictional Texas Hooters-influenced restaurant called Double Whammies, Support the Girls is sensitively empathetic towards its female characters while rendering the men completely ineffective. Lisa (Regina Hall) is the restaurant's manager and reigning mother hen; gathering her flock of young bartenders and waitresses into her embrace while also practicing tough love. Her crew includes the annoyingly upbeat Maci (Haley Lu Richardson), lethargic but loyal Danyelle (a scene stealing Shayna McHayle), and newbie Jennelle (Dylan Gelula), who tries a bit too hard to be "sexy". Then there's regular customer Bobo (Lea DeLaria) who both flirts with and protects the girls from lecherous men, and sleazy owner Cubby (James Le Gros), who bitches to Lisa about her hiring tactics, seeing as Double Whammie's diversity policy keeps a quota on women of color. After all, there's a male-driven, beer-swigging clientele to please.
The hypocrisy of a "family-friendly" establishment catering to a mostly male demographic of sexist creeps is not lost on Bujalski or indeed, his characters. Even if some of the naive waitresses step outside the lines of decency (a car wash fundraiser almost turns into a "Girls Gone Wild" type fiasco), Lisa is always there to right the ship. This is a strong-willed, intelligent woman with a caring heart and no-nonsense attitude, and Hall is absolute perfection in the role. She brings such warmth, humanity, and quiet dignity to the part that one almost forgets it's performative. Lisa feels true. Real. Tactile.
As she transverses a series of micro-aggressions, it becomes clear that the issues at Lisa's low-wage job (an attempted burglary, a broken cable signal) are merely windows into a larger problem. Women are undervalued. Women are used as sexual objects to be co-opted by companies hoping to capitalize under the guise of entertainment. Women of color, of course, have an even tougher road. Hall's chemistry with McHayle is particularly inspired; showing the sisterhood of two black women over-performing in an environment catered to men who casually (or not so casually) discriminate against them. That Bujalski anchors these themes in characterization rather than didactic speeches or on-the-nose compositions, is telling. This isn't just a small snapshot of America in some distant roadside diner. This is America. We need more strong women like Lisa, and less white male privilege. Support the Girls triumphantly hits this feminist-leaning message, but does so without so much as raising a pitcher of cheap beer, and that's no small accomplishment.