Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls would make a superb double feature with Working Girls, which feels like all you need to know about it. But to avoid this being my shortest article yet ….
Support the Girls is a frenetic slice-of-life film, an especially busy, fraught day in a busy, fraught, empathetic life. Regina Hall–getting a terrific and well-deserved showcase here–stars as Lisa, the general manager of Double Whammies, a Hooters-like sports bar and grill that is, she insists, really a family restaurant. After all, if their patrons wanted a strip club, they could find one: Double Whammies doesn’t sell skin as much as it sells the illusion of friendly, perky, accommodating femininity. Oh, and microwaved burgers and big-ass beers.
Working Girls saw the brothel’s madam, Lucy, as a boss first and foremost, not a woman who feels genuine solidarity with the workers. Lisa, on the other hand, truly cares; she’s being run ragged by caring, by trying to look out for her servers and kitchen staff despite the bluster and impatient demands of restaurant owner Cubby (James LeGros). Today is worse than usual. An attempted robbery has knocked out the TVs–on a fight night, no less–and the customers are testy. An unscheduled fundraiser for a server’s legal aid puts Cubby on edge. Lisa’s husband’s depression is making their marriage fall apart in slow motion. People need childcare, pep talks, shoulders to cry on. Lisa has always been a rock, but over the course of this long, hellish day, we watch as she starts to slowly crack under the pressure of being constantly “on,” always reliable, always helpful, always considerate, always able to fix things. At the end of the movie, someone asks Lisa if she started out as a Double Whammies “girl,” and Lisa says no, but the truth is, she has to offer exactly the same kind of playful, accessible warmth as her servers. She just has to do it in a different outfit.
Lisa may be a sympathetic middle manager, but Support the Girls makes it clear the system excels at making that sympathy cost her. There’s no business incentive for her to care this much about her employees; it just runs her ragged and gets her into trouble.
The reward only comes when Lisa–and her servers, especially the straightforward Danyelle (Shayna McHale) and bubbly Maci (Haley Lu Richardson)–are finally, definitively, and forcibly off the clock. It’s only then that it becomes entirely clear that their relationship with Lisa is real, if complex: a multifaceted bond of loyalty, responsibility, and liking. The title drop in Support the Girls comes from the in-movie fundraiser, but the best support here ultimately has nothing to do with money. It’s rebellion–and screaming at the top of your lungs.