The Pitch: America is full of restaurants like Double Whammies, highway off-ramp establishments specializing in loud televisions, expensive mass-produced beer, and half-clad waitresses attempting to get through another day of scraping for tips and dealing with the lecherous advances from the regulars. Most of them are run by someone like Lisa (Regina Hall) too. Lisa checks in, looks out for her staff, deals with unruly patrons, fields obnoxious requests from management, and somewhere in there she tries to look out for herself. That’s not so easy, however, when the demands on Lisa to solve every problem, answer every question, and put out every fire hardly let up when another day at Double Whammies is done. All it would take, it seems, is one particularly bad day to finally push Lisa over the edge.
All in a Day’s Work: Andrew Bujalski has spent his career to date exploring strange corners of Americana, past and present, and on its face Support the Girls is no different. Granted, it’s far more straightforward than the myopic eccentricity of Computer Chess or the sitcom absurdism of Results, but all three films detach from plot-driven concerns and simply spend time with the oddball characters that inhabit the worlds we drive past quickly on the way to some other, more exciting destination. Girls often lingers over the transience of Double Whammies, particularly in the ways that each of the waitresses copes with the realities of what Hooters-esque restaurants have always really been for. As Lisa regularly muses over in one form or another, the beer is generic and the food isn’t especially great. People come for the girls.
Bujalski’s focus is primarily situated on Lisa’s no-good, very bad day from the film’s earliest moments, which allows the other girls to shift in and out of focus on occasion; most are only present when they’re presenting yet another exasperating problem to be solved. However, Girls finds its stride and its soul in these small instances, watching as Hall responds with the kind of studied and forcible empathy that anybody who’s ever had to deal with the egos and petty squabbles of a chain restaurant will recognize instantly. There’s a ceiling for how much Lisa can actually do for any of these women, and at least some of them are aware of that, particularly Maci (Haley Lu Richardson), who radiates the kind of performative optimism that every workplace needs and which was probably crushed out of Lisa a long time ago.
“Crushing” is a good word at large for Support the Girls‘ approach to work, which as Bujalski sees it is equally tedious and necessary. There’s not much in the way of outright melodrama throughout the film; the great and brutal irony of Lisa’s knack for her job is that nobody ever has to suffer throughout the day, except for her. Yet even as Hall’s assured veneer continues to fray and crack with every too-long stare and hidden moment of panic, the film goes out of its way to afford her a dignity that movies (and real life) so rarely do to women like her. Lisa isn’t going to change in some profound way, or suddenly land on the kind of windfall that would get her away from a place like Double Whammies for good. But it’s running, and it’s running well, and that’s by and large because of her. That’s good work.
The Verdict: Support the Girls is the kind of film that sneaks up on you as it’s going along. If this review hasn’t already made this point enough, this is a movie of small incidents and common struggles, and its loping rhythm doesn’t do much to bring a sense of pressing drama to the proceedings. That’s the film’s beauty, however, and its greatest area of strength. In its unassuming way, Girls cuts to the heart of the modern working experience. Double Whammies is kind of a hellhole, but places like it allow women forced to make their own opportunities a chance to profit from the same kind of exploitation so often weaponized in their own direction.
The film occasionally acknowledges how depressing a place like Double Whammies can be for both employee and customer, but its rarer and more considered step is its ability to also see why these places exist in almost every town. There’s a kind of idealized, performed American experience offered by places like this, one which Support the Girls amplifies and satirizes to great effect. Its most trenchant note is also its most biting, though: we need these places, and there are people like Lisa who financially depend on them in their own way, but there’s sure a lot of work that goes into a place that doesn’t actually seem to make anybody involved all that happy. Yet we pursue it, because something or another told us that we should. Ain’t that America.
Where’s It Playing?: Support the Girls is now in limited theaters in select cities.