Set in a tacky Hooters-style sports bar called Double Whammies, Andrew Bujalski’s delightful new comedy, Support The Girls, more than lives up to its winking/earnest double entendre of a title. The film opens with an orientation session for new employees, who are instructed in the fine art of customer service: laughing at men’s dumb jokes, finding reasons to briefly touch their arms, and generally working the restaurant’s skimpy, bosom-centric uniforms. The movie isn’t self-righteously angry about this nonsense, though—just faintly exasperated. For Lisa (Regina Hall), the manager, Double Whammies is very much a job, complete with all the stress and frustration that accompany any position of authority. At the same time, she’s forged an emotional bond with each of the young women in her employ, creating the sort of makeshift work family that’s usually the province of long-running sitcoms rather than movies.
Bujalski, a rabid cinephile, would likely wince at that observation, and Support The Girls is neither as glib nor as mechanistic as a typical sitcom episode. Its rhythms are decidedly cinematic, particularly when it comes to ostensible punchlines being casually thrown away—spoken offscreen or stepped on by new visual information (which paradoxically makes the dialogue even funnier). Still, the film does play a bit like the fusion of a pilot and a series finale, introducing the ensemble and then engineering what turns out to be the final day of work for several characters. Apart from that vague trajectory, it’s mostly plotless, simply following Lisa around as she copes with an endless series of hassles, distractions, and emergencies. One of these involves a burglar who got trapped in the air vent while trying to break into the office, and it’s typical of Bujalski’s approach that this subplot’s true significance doesn’t involve the burglar, who’s barely seen, but the employee who Lisa knows must have given him the safe’s combination. It’s yet another speed bump she has to navigate on what she can clearly see is the road to nowhere. Nor does this movie offer any sort of magical solution to the grind. Not caring, however, is not an option for her.
Unlike David Gordon Green—another well-known indie director who made the transition to mainstream comedy, moving from the Malick-influenced likes of George Washington to such lowbrow fare as Your Highness and The Sitter—Bujalski is making a concerted effort to impose his thorny sensibility onto more accessible material. He’s left behind the mumblecore label of his debut feature, Funny Ha Ha, but he’s not selling out or surrendering his integrity, any more than the Double Whammies waitresses are by catering to stereotypical male desire. Support The Girls splits the difference far more successfully than did Results, his previous effort, which was at best theoretically funny most of the time. That’s largely because Hall’s superb, deeply felt performance keeps the movie grounded, allowing the supporting cast to provide hilarious liftoff at regular intervals. Haley Lu Richardson, as the eternally optimistic, almost psychotically irrepressible Maci, and Shayna McHayle (a.k.a. the rapper Junglepussy), as bluntly blasé Danyelle, are standouts. But everyone gets an opportunity to shine. Even minor characters like Lisa’s deeply depressed husband (Lawrence Varnado), who can barely acknowledge the impending end of their marriage, and harmless horndog Jay (John Elvis), who works at nearby Sounds Town and desperately wants to use his in-store demo setup as a smooth seduction tool, make strong impressions with minimal screen time.
Ultimately, Support The Girls isn’t so much a feminist manifesto or anti-capitalist screed (though it includes elements of both, in its low-key way) as it is a wryly compassionate portrait of mundane lower-middle-class existence, emphasizing the value of solidarity while acknowledging that life never gets any easier for some people. Its emblematic moment, which aptly turns up at the very end of the film’s trailer, sees Lisa, at the lowest point in her long day, taking a breather behind the restaurant and flipping the figurative bird to a literal one flying overhead, simply because she envies and temporarily resents its freedom. With middle finger still extended high, she’s suddenly interrupted by a surprise confetti bomb from Maci (as you’d expect in a Bujalski film, the presence of confetti bombs at Double Whammies have not previously been established; it just comes out of nowhere), who shouts, “You’re the best and we love ya!” before just as suddenly disappearing. Unexpected generosity in the midst of disillusion is what this gem is all about.