“Its success lies in the complexities of its characters, forged through [director Andrew] Bujalski’s talent to let moments and entire scenes come as they will.”
by Ken Bakely
Andrew Bujalski has entered the canon as a filmmaker with the patient observations of a documentarian and the rich personal insights of a novelist. I hesitate to use the word “mumblecore” because it, like many other buzzwords of its kind, has lost any specific meaning it might have had, but it’s clear that the cumulative impact of his work has merited some kind of terming. His newest movie, Support the Girls, is maybe even more empathetic than anything else he’s ever made, and it’s bolstered by a powerhouse leading performance by Regina Hall. She plays Lisa, a woman who lives in a world that would seem devoid of empathy. She’s the manager of Double Whammies, a Hooters-like restaurant off a freeway near Austin, where she’s delegated an infinite sea of tasks, from making sure that the customers don’t get handsy with the waitresses, to ensuring that the cable TV is restored in time for the slew of business coming in for the next big boxing match.
Despite the harsh, exploitative desires that places like Double Whammies cater to, Lisa maintains a strong moral compass and an undying devotion to her employees. Bujalski follows her through a particularly hectic day, when overlaying conflicts push the boundaries of how many different situations she can resolve at once. There’s no conventional throughline beyond Hall’s brilliantly grounded work and the portrayal of demands on the American working class through a defiantly feminist lens, but Support the Girls is a thoroughly engaging experience all the same. Its success lies in the complexities of its characters, forged through Bujalski’s talent to let moments and entire scenes come as they will. He doesn’t concern himself with complicated story structures or neat arcs. He recognizes that characters like Lisa, or the Double Whammies waitresses he focuses on the most, like the energetic Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) and the outspoken Danyelle (Shayna MacHale), are worth depicting just to see how they survive in an environment rigged against their personal autonomy in a socioeconomic sense, a physical sense, or both.
At the same time, Support the Girls balances its serious observations with a lively sense of humor. Bujalski recognizes the inherent absurdity of such sexist establishments continuing to enjoy prevalence in society, and yet there’s no way to understand the depths of its wrongness without acknowledging the humanity of the women who work there. The film’s comedy is compassionate to the max, never above the joke or at the expense of anyone except the occasional male customer with an uncontrollable sense of entitlement. It’s as uplifting a movie as you could ever expect from one that deliberately eschews traditional plotting techniques and story beats. In fact, it’s funnier and warmer and smarter because it understands its characters when no one else seems to care.
There’s a sense that it could even be longer and dig deeper, but Bujalski keeps most of the action contained to a day, with a little bit of spillover at the end which ponders the future. Perhaps that’s the best way to capture this particular slice of life. For Lisa, every day is a new set of challenges bound by old frameworks. As the hours pass, we sense that this one is not quite like any other before it, and the dynamics between her obligations to her work and her dedication to her loved ones continue to grow, reshape, and conflict. Support the Girls ends at just the right spot, as the movie can get one last dig at the system it has critiqued. By then, many of its characters have reached a point that said structures themselves would term an ending – a change from established career obligations. But the movie’s final scene is one that represents freedom, possibility, and interpersonal bonds with an unprecedented clarity and strength. It’s hardly the finish line for anybody.