Writer/director Andrew Bujalski does something impossible with his newest comedy, Support The Girls: create something sweet and optimistic about American corporate misogyny and indifference. At the end of its contractual casual cruelty is a hard-won optimism that’s true to the service industry it depicts, the backbone of an economic institution regularly pushed to its breaking point. How he makes something so warm out of unfeeling capitalism is a bit of a marvel. But then again, the film is bolstered by a rich and hilarious female ensemble, led by contemporary underrated legend Regina Hall.
As the fatigued and indefatigable sports bar manager Lisa, Hall is given the kind of nuanced, movie-shouldering leading role that has been awaiting her for eons. Lisa enters the film tears first, quickly stifling them to get through the damn day but mostly to juggle the multiple hats she must wear for her thankless job. She’s part caretaker for the staff of young women, part bouncer to the lecherous men who frequent the Hooters knockoff chain, and part negotiator to James LeGros as her uncompromising boss. With little room left for herself, Lisa must face a collapsing marriage and career in a world where her abilities aren’t valued and she’s another in a replaceable line of employable bodies. But it’s uplifting!
Part of what makes Support The Girls so heartwarmingly bittersweet is that Bujalski approaches the film and its ensemble with the same beleaguered kindness as Lisa approaches her girls. Though the film is simply structured essentially as a slice of a single day in its establishment (which itself makes its cinematic timing as interchangeable as the films positions its staff to the restaurant change), you can feel the weight of Lisa’s body-breaking monotony both backwards and forwards. Both in the performance and Bujalski’s script, we feel how much Lisa has had to endure and will continue to endure for the sake of making a living, with some hope for a brighter renewing future.
Meanwhile, its cast of characters features sparkling players like Haley Lu Richardson’s bubbly can-do sweetheart Maci and Junglepussy as the sensible and straight-shooting Danyelle. One of the many things the director and ensemble get so very right about the service industry is how it exists as its own microcosm of disparate personalities, a constantly revolving door accepting new components and losing them as well. At best there is genuine connection no matter how fleeting, at worst you focus on the money.
Though the film is slight and modest, there is something unmissably satisfying in its open-ended character study and not just because of a killer performance from Hall. Here the unrewarded entry level work force is its own state of mind: in it together and also on your own, feet on the ground and eyes on the prize, stifling your heart in your throat. You can feel the pain in this film’s soul and feet, so it can be forgiven to get in, do its job, and get out – even if you want it to stick around for longer.