Support The Girls is playing in limited release and it’s a crying shame. Like Margo Martindale, Rachel Weisz, and Angela Bassett, Regina Hall is part of a stable of female actors who are national treasures. If you happen to be lucky enough to live in a city showing the new Andrew Bujalski movie, see it.
Movies so rarely get the day in the life of a workplace even a fraction right. Some have come close, such as Office Space. Most seem to misunderstand the odd, deeply felt, relationships that spring up from working side by side with each other. Rarer still are the movies that understand how ephemeral those relationships are.
Bujalski’s story takes place, in a generic suburb of Houston, Texas. Lisa (Regina Hall) is the manager of a local restaurant Double Whammy; a small roadside version of Hooters. Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) tells the new employees, the job is more than just looking good. It’s more about making the customers, men, feel listened to.
The emotional labor of women is a topic often dismissed or ignored by most male directors. It is a stark contrast in identifying markers between the genders in terms of how they explore characters who are women. Bujalski looks at the demands placed on women, both by men, and themselves. While Double Whammy may thrive on the objectification of women Buljaski and his camera never sink to such a level.
Support The Girls is an ensemble piece that is almost overpowered by the strength and subtlety of Hall’s performance. Essentially a look at a day in the life of Lisa, we discover her not so graceful balancing act. Whether it’s dealing with one of her waitresses, Danyelle (Shayna McHale), being late or with her fracturing marriage with Gary (Chris V. Brown). Lisa lurches from one problem to the next, hoping to solve at least one of them.
Support The Girls has a lot in common with Kelly Reichardt’s beautiful and haunting Certain Women. It lacks any real narrative drive but never feels as if it’s meandering. Much like Reichardt, Bujalski is much more interested in the human face than anything on a green screen. Lucky for him, and us, he has Hall’s face to illuminate the screen.
Hall’s Lisa is a deeply flawed woman who we never stop rooting for. It’s easy to play a hero, or a heel, and to get the audience behind you if you’re likable enough. Lisa is someone who at times maybe demands too much of the people around her. Ultimately, though, she is fueled by love and a desire to see others succeed. It is a type of performance that is difficult because of it’s seeming simplicity.
Bujalski steps back and lets his cameraman Matthias Grunsky capture the world around Lisa and her waitresses. The edges of the shots are filled with smaller, no less important stories. Danyelle’s struggles to find a babysitter. Or her deep sisterly affection for Lisa as the only two women of color in the restaurant. A fact that Lisa brings up to her boss Cubby (James Le Gros). “What are you talking about? What if I had a whole shift of nothing but Latina girls? Huh? Where’s the diversity in that? It defeats the entire purpose.” Bujalski allows us to see the walls Lisa is up against. We are allowed to understand her, without condoning her, but still, root for her.
One of the regulars at the Double Whammy is a middle-aged lesbian, Bobo (Lea DeLaria). She seems to spend an inordinate of time at the restaurant. We get the sense it’s because, it being a suburb of Houston, it’s a place where she feels safe. Bobo in turns does her best to make sure the girls feel safe as well. Far from being a lecherous stereotype she instead is a big sister, helping out when she can. Sometimes Lisa has to remind Bobo that she is not an employee.
The ladies spend much of the day trying to prepare for the night’s big sporting event, a boxing match. Early on the cable goes out. As the fight approaches the girls to try desperately to qualm the fears and rowdiness of the customers. Maci stands atop the bar trying to entertain the men by interacting with them and doing funny dances. One of the male guests shouts out, “You girls aren’t nearly hot enough to carry off this kind of bullsh**!”
Bobo stomps over to the man and demands an apology. “I’m twice the man you are and two times more woman than you can handle.” Moments like this make Support The Girls a sublime look at “sisterhood”. Lisa always cries out little cheers about “supporting the sisterhood” and refreshingly she means it. Even better, so does Bujalski.
Support The Girls works because of the editing by Karen Skloss. Her and Grunsky traverse in the notion of the invisible camera. In other words, Support The Girls is devoid of eye-popping angles and breathtaking tracking shots. The two aim for small quiet, perfectly framed shots of Lisa going over the shift schedule with Danyella’s son. Skloss creates a feeling of spiraling chaos by cutting from one point of view from the next. The cuts create the feeling of simmering anxiety.
Buljaksi is blessed with a cast of women who effortlessly portray and convey their character’s through little moments. Whether it’s Maci demonstrating how to properly laugh, “I like to laugh with my mouth open. I don’t know why but it gets a better response.” Danyella and Bobo are seen sitting together just chatting, without anything being suggested. Just two women talking, about what, we don’t know. We get the feeling it’s none of our business.
Support The Girls is the debut for McHale, who shows a wonderful gift of stripping away artificial affectations. Her Danyella is like a little sister to Lisa. She also behaves as a voice of reason for the older woman. McHale holds her own with Hall and that alone should be proof of her future acting career.
Richardson is pure sunshine personified. The cheerleader of the staff who understands, along with Danyella, how lucky they are to have a manager like Lisa. “It makes such a difference when your boss really cares about you.”
I remember reading an article that stated some eighty-one percent of people who hold managerial positions are bad at their job. It’s a statistic I have little trouble believing. I have worked at video stores, at Burger Kings, driven trucks, and worked retail. Every job sucks to some degree or another. But the jobs with the managers who actively care about you make a bad job bearable as opposed to the ones who merely act as if they do.
Support The Girls looks at class in an honest and forthright place. As Danyella says, “This is a crappy job. But there are other crappy jobs out there.” Films tend to ignore the lower rung of the classes. The people who survive not merely paycheck by paycheck, but by horrible job by horrible job. Nor do they understand the impact of being fired or the nervousness of being hired.
Bujalski’s Support The Girls is a film that stays with you. So often as I write a review for films in which I struggle to remember what happened. I’m not being disingenuous in my recommendations of those films. I am merely pointing out that many films pass through the mind like vapors. They may be competently crafted but leave little impact. So many movies are expertly made for killing time.
But I’ve thought a lot about Support The Girls and the performances contained within. I loved the beauty and the love radiating from Bujalski’s and his fellow filmmakers objective and non-judgmental eyes. The quiet beauty of everyday people trying to get by. People like to ironically joke not all heroes wear capes. This is true. Some of them might even work at the Double Whammy.