Andrew Bujalski is supporting the girls in this fresh and brilliantly acted American indie

Andrew Bujalski is supporting the girls in this fresh and brilliantly acted American indie

Joyce Glasser reviews Support the Girls (June 28, 2019), Cert. 15, 86 min.

Andrew Bujalski was once associated with mumblecore films, and in his first two features, Funny Ha Ha in 2002 and Mutual Appreciation (2003), post-collegiate, white collar young adults struggle to find their place in an indifferent world. Anyone who thought that Funny Ha Ha was written by a 20-something woman, will be even more surprised when they see Support the Girls, set mainly in a Texan sports-bar. Bujalski has left mumblecore behind with this fresh, perfectly-paced and acted American indie that is a lot more substantial than anything Bujalski has done before.

The white collar, educated, lost souls searching for love and employment in Boston and New York have been replaced by working class women and men who are just trying to get through another day at the Double Whammies sports bar.

The main character is 40-something Lisa (Regina Hall), the hard-working manager of Double Whammies, a no-frills sports bar surrounded by motorways and by-passes and in need of some investment. The bar tenders/waiters are girls around 19 to 30 who look good in a uniform of hot pants, cowboy boots, and skimpy red halter tops that are cut just low enough to reveal some cleavage.

Lisa, dressed in black trousers and shirt, arrives at work in an emotional state. She has to dry her tears to get on with the busy, event-packed day ahead. The first order of the day is recruitment. The applicants have to learn that this is not a strip joint, but a family restaurant, so fraternising with the customer is confined to a gentle touch on the arm. You will not see any families in Double Whammies, where overweight men (and one gender bender) order beer and greasy food so they can watch the pay-cable sports.

On this particular day, Lisa finds that her vivacious top girl Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) is spending too long with a customer, referred to as ‘the professor’ and is more serious than she lets on. But Lisa has more urgent matters to attend to. She has to deal with the aftermath of a robbery by a relative of one of the cooks and with dodgy cables that must be repaired before the night’s big game. A corporate sports bar called Mancave is opening nearby and they cannot afford to lose customers.

Regina Hall and Haley Lu Richardson in Support the Girls - Credit IMDB

Regina Hall and Haley Lu Richardson in Support the Girls

Lisa’s job definition does not include taking care of girls who have gone astray and even when she has to sack someone, they may find their way back into the family. What will she do with a waitress that has a huge tattoo of Steph Curry on her midriff when tattoos are forbidden? What about Maci who, it becomes clear, is dating the professor? Single mother Danyelle (Shayna McHayle) tall, thin and well-endowed, comes to work with her son as he would otherwise be alone over the school break.

An employee, Shaina (Jana Kramer) is staying at Lisa’s after being abused by her low life boyfriend. Lisa has the idea of a car wash to raise money, but this backfires and Lisa has to answer to boss, Cubby (James Le Gros) only to learn the hard way that helping an abused woman is not always straight forward.

Far from offering Lisa support, Cubby is intent on antagonising the bar’s best asset. Lisa is not one to over react, but when she witnesses the pathetic Cubby embroiled in a road rage incident, she gets out of his car and calls her depressed husband Cameron (Lawrence Varnado) who dutifully drives out to collect her. Cameron is not home when Lisa, now sacked by Cubby, returns to their modest flat to have a bowl of soap by herself just as the thief, Arturo (Steve Zapata) stops by.

Shayna McHayle and Chris V. Brown in Support the Girls - Credit IMDB

Shayna McHayle and Chris V. Brown in Support the Girls

When the girls learn that Lisa is not returning to the bar, Danyelle is put in charge. The cable televisions are repaired and a full house guarantees a solid take. But as Cubby makes an appearance to supervise, Danyelle and the girls are intent on showing their solidarity with Lisa.

What is infectious about Support the Girls is the naturalness and spontaneity of their interaction. Their caring natures and cheerfulness as well as their foibles all come across in an unusual portrayal of a female-dominated working environment. Lisa and the girls need a pay cheque, of course, but what they do they do to support one another.

Bujalski has assembled a fine ensemble cast and counted on both Regina Hall (Little, Girls Trip, Think Like a Man, The Hate U Give) and Haley Lu Richardson (Columbus) stretching their formidable talents and almost acting against type in terrific performances.

While the timing of the film might suggest some pat response to the #MeToo movement and Harvey Weinstein, the script predated these events. If Lisa asks one large, hairy biker to leave, it is not because of sexual impropriety, but because he called a waitress fat. He claims it was ‘a joke’, but Lisa has a zero tolerance policy.

It is also refreshing that if there are no heroes in the film, there are no villains either. In an interview Bujalski states that he even felt sorry for all the men who had gathered to watch the big game, only for the cables to be sabotaged. This big heartedness comes through in the direction as you somehow do feel badly that these ordinary men, just after a modest treat in a dreary week had to pay the price for someone else’s protest.

You can watch the film trailer here: