I worked at a take-and-bake pizza place in high school and college. The food service industry in America is a tough business. It’s a lot of thankless work with few rewards. But I do recall the strange sense of camaraderie I shared with a few employees, where late-night conversations over scrubbing dirty dishes in the kitchen were transformed into sacred spaces of confessional honesty. It is both an inhumane and deeply human job–we all have to eat, to drink, to work. Someone’s gotta make and serve the pizza.
Andrew Bujalski’s affecting Support the Girls is one of the more authentic, honest, and insightful cinematic depictions of the food industry work environment. The story centers on a day in the life of restaurant manager Lisa (Regina Hall) as she tries to manage and maintain a sense of control over all the various spinning plates which threaten to tumble–or have already crashed and require someone to pick up the mess. She oversees “Double Whammies,” a Hooters-esque local sports bar in Texas, a real “family” place where the waitresses wear tiny jeans shorts and midriff-exposing tops. Double Whammies is the underlying American ethos turned up to 11, a place where misogyny and marketing, cat-calling and capitalism, go hand-in-hand as young attractive women flirt their way for tips from ogling customers. As bubbly veteran waitress Maci (Haley Lu Richardson, in an outstanding performance) tells a group of interviewees, “It’s like working at Chili’s or Applebees, but the tips are way better.”
Lisa is pastoral in her leadership over the group of girls, serving them with a sense of positivity, nurture, and care that one would hope for in any boss. She listens to others, holds them accountable for their actions, and gives a lot of grace for small mistakes. Yet this particular day is a series of one too many dramatic events, ultimately challenging her idealistic resolve. The day begins with a car wash intended to raise money for waitress with legal bills (a situation which Lisa needs to hide from her boss), followed by the discovery of a burglar trapped in the restaurant ceiling, which knocks out the cable TV (a must-have for a sports bar) and leads to all sorts of subsequent crises, culminating in an awkward bar-top semi-striptease dance between a variety of characters, including some of the male customers. It’s death by a thousand paper cuts, one little thing after another, building to an overwhelming fever pitch. Just one or two of these moments might be enough to push someone over the edge, but Lisa has remarkable endurance. Yet even she will have had enough by the end of the day. In a climactic rooftop scene between Hall, Richardson, and fellow waitress Danyelle (Shayna McHayle), all the pent-up frustration from these events bursts forth in a cathartic, primal scream.
In all this, Hall’s performance as Lisa oscillates between optimistic resolve and overwhelmed despair. In a hilarious, poignant scene, she feels a sort of spiritual connection with a bird in Double Whammies’ back lot as she takes a quick break from all the drama. She caws at the bird in solidarity. It’s credit to Hall’s sincerity and appeal that this moment doesn’t feel absurdist or like it’s making fun of Lisa. Instead, it’s a tragic moment of a woman longing for freedom from all the pressure of responsibility upon her shoulders, some of it self-imposed but most of it placed there by others. Hall is excellent, but it’s Richardson’s performance as Maci which stood out to me; I’d consider it the best supporting performance of 2018. Her effervescent, unflappable spirit never feels insincere or forced–this is just who Maci is, and it’s due to Richardson’s acting chops that she makes Maci a genuine human being rather than a caricature or the brunt of the joke. Bujalski’s script and direction is skillful, yet the film’s power is (rightly) in these actresses’ excellent performances.
Support the Girls is billed as a comedy, and it’s certainly smart and funny–a scene with Richardson firing a confetti cannon and startling Hall makes me laugh just thinking about it, and it’s one of my favorite scenes from 2018. Yet the film is also a biting, disheartening look at the reality of the sexual harassment and misogyny that women continue to experience in the workplace, even in a #MeToo and #TimesUp era. Many of the scenes are deeply uncomfortable or awkward, even as they feel down-to-earth and honest. Support the Girls is also a damning indictment of the passivity and toxicity of modern masculinity; every significant male character in the film is a creep, a criminal, or with an unhealthy personal confidence. Yet this lack of decent men doesn’t feel inauthentic in this world; it just feels true to life. As its title implies, Support the Girls is an invitation and exhortation without being preachy or didactic, asking the audience to consider the situation before us, to empathize and advocate for women in our world.
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6859352/