Film Review: ‘Support the Girls’

Andrew Bujalski's dramedy about a tacky T&A restaurant serves up a terrific leading role for Regina Hall.

Director:
Andrew Bujalski
With:
Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, James LeGros, Dylan Gelula, AJ Michalka, Brooklyn Decker, Lea DeLaria, Jana Kramer, John Elvis.

1 hour 33 min.

Every shift, breastaurant manager Lisa (an outstanding Regina Hall) tries to stay perky. The title of Andrew Bujalski’s big-hearted comedy “Support the Girls” winks at the waitresses’ hoisted money-makers and the hardest part of Lisa’s job: tending to her busty, fragile employees. Whose smile is fading, whose kid is sick, who just put her abusive boyfriend in the hospital, and who’s crying cause a biker just called her fat. Double Whammies’ Rule No. 1, “NO DRAMA” with all-caps emphasis, goes ignored, especially by its screaming, bullying owner Cubby (James Le Gros), a tyrant with a wimpy mustache, who forces Lisa to obey his Rainbow Policy of scheduling only one black woman per shift.

Hall’s pragmatic, but unforgiving response to the racist rule is a 200-proof distillation of Bujalski’s toast to working-class women who make the best of bad options. Sure, the ladies are the supposed stars of this dive with its cheesy, greasy glop, but when maniacal bobblehead Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) stands on the bar to raise a beer for sisterhood, the customers stay focused on their fries. “Support the Girls” gives them the spotlight they’ve earned.

The film opens with the wheeze of exhaust from the cars chugging past on the freeway, then tinny country music that will hum steadily through the end credits. We’re in Texas, after all, and some stereotypes have to be honored. Last, we hear the quiet sob of Lisa squeezing in a quick parking-lot cry before opening the restaurant, which gets interrupted by a knock on her window.

“Haaaaay!” Hall beams with forced cheer. Nobody needs her grief on top on their own, and from the moment she steps out of her worn sedan, she’s in motion solving everyone else’s problems. “You are the wind beneath my buffalo wings,” coos waitress Danyelle (Shayna McHale), a dorky joke that her character knows is a groaner when she says it.

Where Lisa is upbeat and active, Danyelle is still and suspicious — an acquired flavor — who reluctantly agrees to flirt with a sound-system salesman (John Elvis) next door so they can borrow his speakers for a charity car wash. The fundraiser isn’t illegal, exactly, but it’s the kind of overly generous impulse that could get Lisa fired if Cubby found out.

Lisa’s on her feet, and her phone, continuously, a pace so exhausting that Bujalski carves out moments for her to just be. The tone is at once rambling and relentless. After a string of calls to get the cable turned back on before the night’s televised fight, she takes 30 seconds to sit on a curb and stare at a bird. Later, a solo bowl of soup in her apartment has the eerie peace of a tomb. She’s enduring all of this chaos for this moment, the financial independence to live alone after separating from her depressive husband (Lawrence Varnado). “Sad dudes is my business,” she tells her soon-to-be ex. She’d rather not spend her off-hours dealing with them, too.

Bujalski divides the world into women versus men, and then divides it again between the sane and the screw-ups. “Support the Girls” goes easy on the guys, who are mostly seen as messy, easily manipulated fools, while deadbeats of both genders get it with both barrels — or as Lisa sighs, “I can take fucking up all day, but I can’t take not trying.” Bujalski also observes the social divide that makes Lisa pick these blue collar burger-eaters over the rich folks she used to serve at her former steakhouse. At least here, she can kick the jerks out — and when she enforces Double Whammies’ zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy, satisfaction rippled through the theater.

A few moments flop like wet napkins, including a throwaway bit about Maci’s secret boyfriend and a recurring joke with a confetti gun that just makes you wonder which girl’s gotta sweep up the mess. No matter. Lisa would simply power on, and she does as Hall’s performance — tender, tough, empathetic, controlled — crumples from tears to laughter in a blink. It’s phenomenal, and even in her character’s small triumphs, she never lets the audience forget that women like Lisa have long since stopped hoping for a Hollywood-style happy ending. Instead, her victory comes when she stays home and lets Cubby see how Double Whammies wobbles without her. Sometimes the best revenge is doing nothing at all.

Film Review: 'Support the Girls'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Spotlight), March 9, 2018. 93 MIN.

Production: A Magnolia Pictures release of a Burn Later Productions presentation of a Slater Films, Houston King production. Producers: Houston King, Sam Slater. Co-producer: Rowan Riley. Executive producers: Jonathan Fryd, Scott Carmel, Paul Bernon, David Bernon, Susan Kirr.

Crew: Director, writer: Andrew Bujalski. Camera (color): Matthias Grunsky. Editor: Karen Skloss.

With: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, James LeGros, Dylan Gelula, AJ Michalka, Brooklyn Decker, Lea DeLaria, Jana Kramer, John Elvis.

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