Film Review: Support the Girls

Girl power rules everywhere you look these days—even in a sports bar.
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It’s not terribly surprising that a little indie comedy set in a sports bar full of well-endowed waitresses would get most of its laughs from sly satirical digs at the culture it portrays. The surprise—and it’s a nice one—is the way Support the Girls quickly evolves into a bittersweetly uplifting celebration of got-your-back, we-will-survive sisterhood. Along the way, it also gives us three very memorable—and memorably played—characters, who hold together this casually paced, loosely structured series of workplace crises and complications.

At the heart of it all is Regina Hall’s Lisa, the harried manager of the Double Whammies Sports Bar and Grill, who is having a very taxing day. She’s fast-tracking a bunch of clueless new waitresses, cooperating with cops who are trying to dislodge a would-be burglar stuck in the bar’s ventilation duct, and running an unsanctioned “charity” car wash to raise money to hire a lawyer for a former waitress who tried to run over her boyfriend. There are also lesser issues that distract Lisa—such as the cost-cutting boss (James LeGros) who routinely threatens to fire her, and the new hire whose brand-new tacky tattoo spoils the whole point of her midriff-baring uniform. But we get it: Everything that can go wrong is going wrong. Or about to.

Clearly, most of Lisa’s challenges fall under the category of slightly larger than life. But where a high-concept big-studio production would have jacked up the farce and the physical comedy, writer-director Andrew Bujalski keeps it messily, clunkily real. So does Hall, who could have gone big to match the outsized situations, but instead stays inside every moment. And her character is defined by the quietest of those moments: spilling tears alone in her car in an empty parking lot; perched on the curb behind the sports bar, just because she has to get away from it all; again alone, and again trying to get away, again in her car, which will not start. These scenes establish an intimacy that really pays off later on, when Lisa is dealing with a husband who has given up not only on their failing marriage but also on himself. The pathos Hall makes you feel here wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t felt so genuine from the start.

As for the film’s two other mainstays, Shayna McHayle is a deceptively laidback scene-stealer as Danyelle, Lisa’s unofficial second-in-command, whose sleepy-eyed seductiveness reduces men to willing stooges, and Haley Lu Richardson sparkles throughout as Maci, the endlessly upbeat team cheerleader, who starts out teaching calculated cuteness to the newbies and ends up instilling her sisters with a new sense of purpose and direction.

That sisterhood theme, dubiously introduced early on as Lisa tries to sell her new hires on the “family” aspect of their workplace, becomes an increasingly strong motif as this film’s large ensemble of ladies interact, while enduring the leers, gropes, innuendoes and insults of their largely slobbish male clientele. They’re in this together, and that unspoken solidarity does a lot to help humanize a group of supporting characters who might otherwise have come off as interchangeable bimbos. Bujalski takes care to give each of them at least one scene that ensures that we see them as more than that.

Here, too, Hall’s Lisa is at the heart of things: Beleaguered, barely keeping the place or herself together, she’s at once the trusted mentor, the tough-love mom, the shoulder to cry on, the absolute rock for her girls. She’s so central to the way all of this works that when she just gets fed up and quits—and is no longer onscreen—the film seems to lose its way. Certainly, it loses momentum.

Not to worry: Hall soon re-emerges with more than enough time to be the focal point of the film’s most laceratingly satirical sequence, and to join McHayle and Richardson for a final group venting that is as bracingly primal as it is truly inspired. Suffice it to say that they are women: Hear them roar.

You don’t have to be a Hooters waitress to relate to this film’s depiction of what people have to do to pay the bills. Anyone who has ever swallowed some pride while wearing a name tag or conformed to some half-ass company dictum should recognize the sacrifice behind the compromises these women must make to remain employed, But what’s special about Support the Girls is how it captures the inner selves of its women—how it illuminates the personal dignity that remains, no matter how much workplace indignity they must suffer.

Not bad for a little comedy set in a sports bar.