Support the Girls
December 14, 2018
Haley Lu Richardson
James Le Gros
1 Hr., 30 Mins.
n James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News (1987), the heroine, a news producer played by Holly Hunter, does not merely start the day off crying. She cries during work, after work. The practice has come to be as much a self-care exercise as buying, and then putting on, a $10, cucumber-steeped face mask. Crying, aside from being an extension of her unhappiness, is also the only way to temporarily free herself from the claustrophobic swirl of anxiety and
frustration and terror that regularly surrounds her.
Lisa (Regina Hall), the protagonist of this year’s Support the Girls, knows what this is like. When we meet her for the first time, she’s sitting in the driver's seat of her car, sponging up her tears and practicing a smile while looking at herself in the mirror. Rather than emphasize the crying, as was the case in Broadcast News, though, Support the Girls’ writer and director, Andrew Bujalski, leaves them off screen, and underlines the getting-yourself-together component. It emboldens the idea that Lisa doesn’t just have to put on a cover of happiness after a good crying session as if it were MAC concealer. The Lisa most people know is a façade.
Anyone who’s worked in the food industry, whether in the short-or long-term, knows this emptiness. We learn, in the following scene, that Lisa is the manager of Double Whammies, a Hooters-style restaurant that prominently featuring “boobs, brews, and big screens,” where the waitresses wear revealing, bodycon clothing and where regular customers are commonplace but vary in their consideration. Lisa is aware that ogling is unavoidable here. But she demands respect, and she'll give you the boot if she and her employees don't feel like they're receiving it. She’s an exemplary manager — beloved, really (“I like working with you,” an employee replies when Lisa asks if she likes working at Double Whammies) — but she is slowly turning into a husk. Dedicating her life to an establishment she doesn’t much care for, and spending so much time investing in the lives of her 20-something-year-old workers, gives her little Lisa time.
Support the Girls covers a particularly bad working day, and is meant to be a character study orbiting around Lisa and her discontents. It begins with a training at the restaurant — Double Whammies is in desperate need of some more workers — and continues with a deceptive car-washing fundraiser and confrontational exchanges with an employee and then a higher-up. All ends, on a rooftop, where Lisa and two of her most prized girls, Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) and Danyelle (Shayna McHayle, also known as the rapper Junglepussy), cut their conversation short and start screaming into the high heavens, as if the roof were a collective bedroom and the sky a pillow.
The movie is a compassionate, prepossessing dramedy — bettered because it, atypically, three-dimensionalizes a niche kind of waitressing prone to upped objectification. Bujalski is a gifted realist: characters dip in and out but can feel life-like with just a couple lines; you can feel how much sexism and racism have been internalized by these women, based on how nonchalant their reactions are — if they even react — when instances flare up.
While it is an exceptional ensemble piece, Support the Girls is, above all else, a showcase for the under-appreciated Hall, who’s invigorated “serious” roles before but remains best known for her jester-like, years-long performance in the Scary Movie franchise. In the movie, she captures the disaffections of a woman whose noted kindness is getting thinner by the hour. This sort of mid-evolution specificity is part of the reason why the movie is effective: the characters are so discretely written and performed that it is as if we traipsed into their lives and no one noticed.
Support the Girls has been referred to as a comedy. But the distinction, in a way, undersells what Bujalski and his actors do so well: craft a type of realism eerily true to life, which, of course, means that there will be flare-ups, conspicuous or otherwise, of humor. “It’s a comedy because, without laughter, there’d be no getting by,” Vanity Fair critic K. Austin Collins observed in August. These women are exploited every day, whether by their customers or by capitalism itself, but they will, for the time being, have each other, and they laughs they share, to rely on. It's a testament to survival. Even if Lisa feels empty inside, and even if crying is her only substantial coping mechanism, she’s never totally alone. B+