Subtly brilliant 'Support the Girls' is both important and entertaining
Someone should study how many people bought tickets to “Support the Girls” as soon as they found out it took place in a Hooters-style restaurant. Then determine how many of those people not only sat through the entire thing but delighted in discovering that the film exists not to objectify through the leering eyes of the customers but to detail how the employees live and work. Anyone who is disappointed by that is the exact type of person who needs to see this most.
If only that could be one of the Golden Rules at Double Whammies, an independently owned sports bar where the posted guidelines for the all-female servers are:
1. NO DRAMA!
2. The four “B’s”: Be responsible, be informed, be friendly, be sexy.
3. Don’t give an asshole the satisfaction. Don’t get angry, get a manager.
4. “Bone up” on sports.
5. Two (not three) minutes per table, and they get your full attention.
Behind the scenes the message is more conservative: Lisa (a spectacular Regina Hall), the general manager who begins the day and the movie crying in her car, informs her existing and new staff that this is a mainstream, family place. “You’re not wearing a whole lot of clothes,” she says, “but if these guys wanted to go to a strip club, they know where to find them.” Even though controlled flirting is encouraged and large beers are called “big ass,” this is an establishment where, as would hopefully be the case anywhere, there is a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment, and managers have no problem calling the police to defend a staff member from a customer if necessary.
At least, Lisa would. Part of the quiet tension in this deceptively casual piece from writer-director Andrew Bujalski is how differently the less-professional, male higher-ups at Double Whammies perceive the women who work there, brainstorming ways to exploit them and seeing them more as commodities than people. The customers are often no different; “Oh my god, you girls are not nearly hot enough to pull off this kind of bullshit!” yells one who just wants to watch the game, not the women standing on the bar trying to entertain them. And that is to say nothing of the customers who say and touch things that are blatantly over the line.
Extraordinarily of the moment without underlining and bolding it, “Support the Girls” is the rare movie about really important issues that also manages to be light on its feet and entertaining. Haley Lu Richardson, who gave one of 2017’s standout performances in “Columbus,” brings sweetness and substance as Maci, a server who has told everyone but Lisa that she is dating a much older customer. Her explanation that it is not wrong to be treated very well by a sweet person may not alleviate all questions about the situation, but it speaks to the movie’s ability to gently align the genuine and the uncomfortable. This occurs as effectively but in a much different way in one of the most striking moments, as Lisa, on the phone behind the restaurant and exasperated about a day that keeps piling up, gives the finger to the sky and is then startled as Maci appears from inside, sets off a party popper, shouts “You’re the best and we love ya!” and disappears. It is a beautiful burst of joy, appearing and vanishing just as quickly, leaving reality behind.
And “Support the Girls,” populated with women that might be pure fantasy to onlookers, is all about reality. About finding animals in the kitchen. (About a family of rabbits that had been found, Lisa deadpans, “We are a family place, but that is one family I never want to see in here again.”) About how hard it can be to find time for personal concerns like spouses and kids when work is always there, and relationships with the volatility of running over the guy one minute and standing by him the next. (Throughout the movie Lisa tries to raise money to support legal funds for Shaina, played by Jana Kramer, who broke her significant other’s leg, and whose loyalty is as heartbreaking as Lisa’s eventually rescinded efforts to help.) And, really, when people and jobs and social conduct pass their breaking point, for better or worse.
With flickers of a down-tempo Mike Judge (“Office Space,” “Extract”) effort, “Support the Girls” wonders if independent businesses can survive against places like the Mancave, a nationwide chain far busier and more polished than the rather depressing Double Whammies. It contrasts the benefits of a corporate structure with supposedly more concrete policies with the lack of closeness that exists among staff and managers when turnover is high. And it recognizes the bits of doubt that hover over many day-to-day interactions, informed by race, class, gender and more. To do this in a way that is at once sad, angry, emotionally generous and resilient is something to celebrate.
It is also worth mentioning that the film takes place all in one day, with Lisa clearly about to burst about the dissolution of her marriage and a job she cannot seem to believe she still has. Bujalski never overplays anything, though, preferring the daily suspense that is the slow-paced trot of dissatisfaction, and wondering at what point do people scream. It is all relative, though. “Listen, I started this day off crying,” Lisa says after she chuckles when a colleague says Lisa is married to Double Whammies. “Laughing is progress.”
This review will be published in next year's edition of Magill's Cinema Annual. Click here to purchase copies of collections from previous years.