Andrew Bujalski’s new movie, Support the Girls, is an American masterpiece. If you think such a claim sounds ridiculous given this is a low-budget comedy about the waitresses of a Hooters knock-off, you are forgiven. However, if you pass up the opportunity to see this movie while it’s still in theaters, you might not be able to forgive yourself. Support the Girls is a tiny movie – most of it takes place over 24 hours in a single location – but it feels gigantic. It has enormous things to say about women, labor, race, class, and humanity. It moved me profoundly, the way only one or two movies do every year. It is also hilarious.
The movie stars Regina Hall, who’s been excellent for many years and is finally getting a chance at playing lead roles, such as her radiant turn in last year’s Girls Trip. This time, she plays Lisa, the general manager of “Double Whammies,” the kind of sports bar where the waitresses wear short shorts while showing a lot of cleavage. Such a setting is ripe for exploration, especially with a character like Lisa at the center. Lisa is good at her job. She is incredibly resourceful. As we follow her during a very stressful day, she never fails to find quick and viable solutions to whatever problem comes her way. She’s be the perfect manager, except that she cares about the girls who work for her, and that’s not always good for business.
As a manager, Lisa is the bridge between business owner and workers. Her job is to make sure things run smoothly and money is made, but she is the kind of woman who thinks of herself as the safety net between the girls who work with her and the charged, potentially dangerous gaze of the establishment’s male clients. She knows what it’s like to be one of these young women, and she feels an intense need to protect them. A million different things go wrong on the day most of the movie takes place, but it’s Lisa’s desire to help one of the girls that gets her in trouble with her boss. Being a human and running a business are simply not compatible.
Manager characters are usually portrayed as ass-kissing weasels who want nothing more than to climb the professional ladder. Their desire to move up in the workplace is usually a sign that they have betrayed the ground-level workers, especially if they started out as one. Lisa, on the other hand, is a complex human with real world problems, and Bujalski adopts her perspective thoroughly. A telling moment comes early in the film: It’s already been a particularly trying morning when Lisa steps out of the restaurant and enjoys a moment of calm. She takes a deep breath, and the hand-held camera moves up and down very slightly, as if it was breathing with her. It’s a significant touch. One that signals not only Bujalski’s commitment to his main character, but to the movie’s humane approach.
This level of empathy extends to the rest of the girls. You have Danyelle (Shayna ‘Junglepussy’ McHale), Lisa’s sarcastic and resourceful right hand woman. There’s new hire Jennelle (Dylan Gelula), a marketing major with a lot of dubious ideas of how to improve business. And above all, there’s eternally peppy Maci (Haley Lu Richardson), the only girl who seems to actually enjoy working at “Double Whammies.” They make up one of the best ensembles of the year, thanks to the movie’s resistance to turn them into helpless victims or dumb caricatures. They have agency, dimension, initiative. They make choices, they collaborate, they try to get ahead. Some of their decisions are questionable, but that’s part of the point. The movie argues that these women have a right to have principles other than those dictated by society, and to make mistakes while trying to live up to them. Lisa says as much during an emotional argument with her husband: “I can take fucking up all day long, but I can’t take not trying.”
Support the Girls positions working life in the context of an America that keeps on moving despite its unresolved problems. It casts a light on the people who refuse to lose their humanity just because they must make a living within the capitalist machine. Anyone who’s had to work a shitty job will immediately relate. With this movie, Bujalski has pulled off a kind of magic trick: he’s couched something profound in an unassuming, thoroughly enjoyable package. To top things off, in his final trick he chooses to close the movie by echoing the last scene of Garden State – the poster child for sad white boy indies – only this time the loud screams into the void ring with the rage of America’s working women.
This review, initially published in August 2018, was revised and re-edited in May 2020.