Director: Andrew Bujalski
Stars: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle
Support The Girls is a movie set almost entirely at a Hooters-style roadside sports bar and is directed by a man. But even as you draw in breath ready for your long and fatigued exhale, wait. It’s also one of the best little indies out there this year. I had the fortune of running into this flick at the tail-end of 2018, and its a pleasure to put forward a case for it now that its landing in (far too few) UK cinemas.
Said man at the helm of the project is Andrew Bujalski, lynch-pin of the now diminished mumblecore scene. His tenure in muted humanistic drama has served him well. His bar – Double Whammies – is notable for its well-observed and dimensional set of female characters, all under the tutelage of Regina Hall in a career best turn as manager Lisa.
The film charts a day-in-the-life, as Lisa deals with everything from the everyday (group interviews, inductions) to the absurd (a would-be thief stuck in a vent shaft) on what might turn out to be her last day. In the process Support The Girls invites us into a very particular microclimate; somewhere that’s always a pleasure to be.
That sense of ease and hospitality that the movie engenders is just how Lisa would want it. As she stresses to her new girls, Double Whammies is a family establishment; the outfits may be small, but what’s being sold is the promise of a big heart. That’s also what Bujalski has on offer, and Support The Girls delivers in spades.
Hall has been praised to the heavens for her work here, and she is great, and awards worthy. Lisa works hard and cares about her job. It isn’t always easy, but that’s life. But even Hall is nearly upstaged by Haley Lu Richardson as the bubbly Maci. For some of the girls at the bar, the charm offensive expected of them for the customers is just that; part of the act that goes with the job. Maci, however, is one of those rare, effervescent individuals for whom everything is a boundless, enthusiastic joy. Her glass is always full, let alone half-full. In the wrong hands that could’ve been irritating as sin, but Richardson works wonders with the part. You wanna be in her company.
The third MVP of Support The Girls is newcomer Shayna McHale as single-mother Danyelle. Her laconic delivery has a wonderful been-there, done-that quality to it. She hasn’t all that much material, but when the dust settles she’s just as memorable as her contemporaries standing up on that roof at the end of the movie.
The film shares the Disneyfied pastel colour palette of Sean Baker’s wonderful 2017 indie darling The Florida Project and there’s a similar sense of people at the lower end of the American Dream simply doing what they do to make ends meet. In that sense Bujalski hasn’t strayed a million miles from his roots. The rough-around-the-edges aesthetic of mumblecore has been traded in for something a little slicker, but he’s still parcelling us truisms of human behaviour.
The world of Trump gets about half a second of airtime during a truck ride when Lisa switches radio stations (something brief about foreign policy), but it acts like a pin stuck in the map around which Bujalski has wound his string. Underplaying political sentiments is smart. Support The Girls avoids becoming an overt essay film or soapbox piece. Instead, it merely reflects a society in which women are more inclined to draw strength from one another than the variety of less-than-remarkable men surrounding them. And while the film’s title is also something of an under-wiring pun – acknowledging the push-up bras worn by Lisa’s staff – that’s as awkwardly on-the-nose as Bujalski gets.
Patronising “girl power” fortune cookies are being chucked into most major blockbusters right now. Strong, resilient women aren’t a pit stop for Bujalski to tip his hat to before moving on; they are the film.
And did I mention the funny here? Though not directly or even foremost a ‘comedy’, Bujalski peppers his script with little laughs that help carry the small-scale drama forward, and his cast sell these really well, be they wry observational moments or exclamation points of physical comedy. One of these involves Maci, Lisa and a glitter cannon. It’s – pun intended – a blast.
“Watch and learn from the master,” Lisa says to her newbies while indicating toward Maci, “There’s an art to this.” But she may as well be pointing through the camera to Bujalski. It’s often hard to quantify what makes a movie great when what’s been achieved is a sense of the effortless. But effortlessness as a general vibe is very hard to pull off. Richard Linklater knows how to do it. Kevin Smith used to (and Support The Girls could be read as an update/antidote to his Clerks II). Andrew Bujalski knows it, too.
But he owes it all to his girls. These women. Where Clerks II sailed by on the dying fumes of ‘bro-humour’ and gross-out comedy (and remains a firm hangover favourite around here), Support The Girls celebrates its women, be they fighting for little victories or screaming their lungs out on a roof somewhere, recognising full well that even without the cameras, they’ll be doing it all again tomorrow.
Support the girls. Support this film. Go find it.