Think back to your first job, or really any job that didn’t represent your ideal career—retail, service industry, it doesn’t matter what—it was probably pretty shit, right? You clocked in, worked for a low-wage, for a company that viewed you as a replaceable cog in a well-oiled (or not) machine, and hoped for the best. Maybe you had some cool coworkers who helped liven up the atmosphere, perhaps a manager who, despite their position of authority as an extension of the owner and/or corporation that thought nothing of you, tried their best to make you as comfortable as possible.
Well, Lisa (Regina Hall)—the distressed shift-lead at Double Whammies, a highway-adjacent “breastaurant” (i.e. Hooters)—is that manager, and the sprightly cast of waitresses under her guidance are those coworkers. Despite the restaurant’s inherent appeal to sexist machismo, Lisa strives to foster a familial regime, and the trials and tribulations of one particularly bad day serve as the backbone of Support the Girls, “Godfather of Mumblecore” (I wonder if he hates that title) Andrew Bujalski’s hilarious heartfelt ode to the struggles of working class Americans stuck in the throes of late capitalism (damn, I promised myself I wouldn’t use that term!).
The film opens on Lisa crying alone in the Whammies parking lot. Once gathered, she meets with the endearing so-bubbly-it-hurts Maci (Haley Lu Richardson), head waitress and biggest proponent of the workplace sisterhood, and they begin preparing for the day. Things immediately get off to a bad start when Maci informs her there is a loud banging sound coming from the ceiling of the employee’s office; Lisa worries it’s the air conditioning, but we soon learn it’s a would-be thief trapped in the ventilation system. The revelation is as funny as it sounds, as is the rest of the film.
Quick aside: I understand the optics of indie distribution, but the limited theatrical release/quick VOD turnaround has left me scratching my head. This is a timely movie with a rock-solid sense of humor and an incredibly charming cast. Sure it has more to say than most comedies, but it deserved a wider release ala this year’s Blockers and Game Night.
From there, Lisa meets with a handful of interviewees and recruits them for the community carwash she has planned for the day, much to the ignorance of Whammies’ asshole owner, Cubby (James Le Gros). She hopes to give the raised funds to a former employee who is in a bind, both legally and relationship-wise. Also along for the shift is Danyelle (Shayna McHayle, better known by her rap pseudonym Junglepussy), whose nonchalant attitude towards the job belies her affection for Lisa; when she’s asked to flirt with a geeky home theater store employee named Jay (John Elvis) to get free speakers for the carwash, she grits her teeth and gets the job done.
The day continues to unfold with the small but no less draining challenges of managing a team of young 20-something year old women. One of the core tenants of Whammies is that there is no drama allowed on the work floor. It’s safe to say you can imagine how that goes. One of the funniest bits involves Krista (AJ Michalka), who loses her job after getting a tattoo (Cubby enforces a no tattoo policy) of Golden State Warriors’ star Stephen Curry plastered on the flank of her torso; Lisa’s face upon first seeing it is priceless, and I’m sure will be available in gif form soon enough.
Lisa, Maci, and Danyelle make up the core trio, and without the sterling performances backing the characters the film would falter. Richardson offers what is perhaps the best embodiment of a spunky, can-do attitude I have ever seen. She’s like a cartoon character come to life, her wide smile and chipper personality never wavering. The conviction with which she declares “chocolate milk rules!”—while sipping on a glass of the good stuff—is enough to melt your heart (and bust your gut from laughter). McHayle is likewise excellent, and I was shocked to find out afterward this was her acting debut. She brings so much believable sass to the role, offering a number of delightful facial expressions and fed-up side-eyes.
But in the end, this is Hall’s show, and she more than delivers, balancing an admirable sense of work ethic and politeness with the crushing weariness of her often thankless position. There is a subplot regarding her personal life (hence the opening waterworks) that ties perfectly together with her work life, and the film meticulously builds to a final moment of catharsis that deserves a place in the Movie Ending Hall of Fame. Earlier this week I wrote that we should charge the academy with criminal offenses if Helena Howard was not nominated for Madeline’s Madeline. Though the flashy theatrics of that performance are nowhere to be seen in Hall’s understated turn as Lisa, I echo the same sentiments here. Now excuse me while I go watch Girls Trip.
Support the Girls was my introduction to Bujalski, which I now regret deeply. It takes a special talent to make a film that offers a look at our capitalistic society that is this searing without containing an ounce of self-aggrandizement. Couple the well-meaning message with a truly fabulous cast and a constant stream of jokes (all at an hour-and-a-half to boot!), and how was I supposed to not love this movie? Honestly, I struggle to think of any negative element. For what it sets out to do, it’s pretty much as perfect as it can get.