From his mumblecore roots to the oddball indie gem Computer Chess to a more mainstream effort like the fitness rom-com Results, writer/director Andrew Bujalski has always sought to find humor and understanding in the menial trials of everyday life. His latest, the charming and soulful winner Support the Girls, is his most successful film yet; a sisterhood of the traveling Daisy Dukes set at Double Whammies, a Hooters-style sports bar in Texas. As a slice of life look at the complex service ladies who promise their customers “boobs, brews, and big screens”, it’s easily one of the most humanistic and funny comedies of the summer, with a career best performance by Regina Hall.
Hall, who is frequently the most slept-on castmember in just about every film she’s in (other than Tiffany Haddish she was the best part of Girls Trip), is hard-working manager Lisa, although “manager” is extremely limiting given what she does to go above and beyond that title. She’s a caretaker, den mother, and friend to the women under charge, and she’s not afraid to bend a rule or two if it means helping one of them. She’s having a particularly rough shift, having been greeted that morning with a woefully inept break-in attempt, training a batch of new employees, a cable TV set that keeps malfunctioning on the day of a big fight, legal drama with one of her girls, and oh yeah, the grouchy/racist restaurant owner, Cubby (James LeGros), probably wants to fire her.
The problems seem trivial from the outside, but to the people dealing with keeping this restaurant’s doors open they’re pretty serious. What draws you in immediately is the practical way in which Lisa tackles every issue before putting on a new hat and diving right into the next one. Need a cheap sound system installed for an against-the-rules charity car wash? Have cynical single mom Danyelle (Shayna McHayle) flirt with a customer who works at an electronics store. And when it all gets to be too much to bear, get a hug from bubbly veteran waitress Maci (Haley Lu Richardson, lighting up every scene).
The cheeky double-entendre of a title gives you a clue what Bujalski is aiming for. Movies about the service industry are frequent, but few take as sympathetic a view as Support the Girls. Compassion and fierce devotion are this movie’s driving engine, and it’s genuinely heartwarming to see so many women fighting for one another rather than tearing each other down. Bujalski understands that despite their skimpy outfits and constant push to upsell to the largely-male clientele, these women are deserving of respect and they have a leader in Lisa who makes sure they get it, even to her own detriment. While the film retains Bujalski’s hands-off, observational style, one of the most intense scenes is an angry confrontation between Lisa and a road-raging Cubby, who has the bigoted policy of only allowing one colored waitress per shift. The slightest push back from her on the issue has him on the defensive, which only causes him to blow up further.
Bujalkski knows when to pull back and let his actors fill in the characters for themselves. This isn’t a movie about Lisa’s “blackness”, and yet it’s not something that’s shied away from, either. It’s pretty hard to ignore that she’s a vocal black woman helping a racist white man keep his shop open, while servicing mostly white men customers. And you see the many contradictions fighting inside her etched on Hall’s face. It’s a quietly triumphant performance from her and it deserves to be recognized, hopefully by people finding this film in any way they can. The supporting cast is terrific, as well, with each of their characters made to feel integral and vital. Richardson has been on an incredible roll lately (if you haven’t seen her in Columbus, you’re missing out) and she is just the brightest ray of sunshine every time she’s on screen. Support the Girls is slight in plot but rich in character, offering a little bit of dignity to women who are too often overlooked or disregarded.