At selected cinemas nationwide now.
Regina Hall is finally getting the lead roles that her talent deserves, although the likes of the recent update of the Freaky Friday template, Little, have demanded broad comedic turns. Her performance in Support the Girls, however, is a nuanced and beautifully-calibrated portrayal of a woman just trying to get through the day. If Mumblecore pioneer Andrew Bujalski’s day-in-the-life comedy-drama was more insistent in its presentation, awards contention would be a definite possibility.
Hall plays Lisa, the hugely competent manager of the crassly-monikered Double Whammies bar, a beer and boobs bar closely modelled on Hooters. She’s fiercely, maternally protective of the young women under her supervision, to the extent that she sets up an illicit car wash scheme to raise money towards legal fees for an employee who has run over her abusive partner. That’s just one of the incidents she has to contend with at work while dealing with the collapse of her marriage to her depressive husband. Very rarely has the phrase, ‘not all heroes wear capes’ been so apt.
Support the Girls may seem counter-intuitive in its setting, along with its stellar supporting cast of scantily-clad young actresses, but it’s ideal for showing up the everyday sexism and myriad micro-aggression that women have to deal with. These come not just from the attention of the more obviously sleazy customers but in the form of the bar’s charmless owner Cubby (James Le Gros), whose arbitrary rules include having no more than one black woman on shift at any one time.
The quietness of Bujalski’s films is their strength, in that they set up a quotidian situation and let the characters do the rest. Lisa’s difficulty with her husband’s depression, the precarious nature of the job market, and domestic abuse are all examined during a perfectly-paced 90 minutes. Although ostensibly a comedy, the tone remains somewhat pessimistic. Any moments of catharsis or triumph have consequences and the villain, more so than any trucker-capped sleazoid, is rapacious capitalism and how it forces solidarity and principles to come with an often hefty price.
If this sounds too heavy, be assured Support the Girls is also consistently witty and charming. A lot of this comes from the affection and respect between Lisa and her co-workers. Chief among these is Haley Lu Richardson as the manically sunny Maci. As Lisa’s right hand and main cheerleader, she tries to make the best of every situation. Shayna McHayle (better known as rapper Junglepussy) is the statuesque Danyelle, more cynical and pragmatic than Maci. Both are the type of loyal friends anyone would be lucky to have.
Some will find the episodic nature of Support the Girls a little stop-start and the depictions its male characters are simplistic, to say the least. This is however down to them being peripheral figures in the film. They are obstacles to overcome and burdens to bear; catalysts for the life-affirming sisterhood that is front and centre. Bujalski isn’t trying to make a fairy tale, but he does show that an unfair society can be made that bit more bearable when people look after each other. In the end, that feels uplifting in its own right.