Support the Girls review: A compassionate portrait of American womanhood, set in a fictional ‘breastaurant’

Andrew Bujalski’s new comedy finds it heart and soul in Regina Hall, who delivers a brilliant performance 

Clarisse Loughrey
Thursday 27 June 2019 12:39
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Trailer for Support The Girls (2018) starring Regina Hall

Dir: Andrew Bujalski. Starring: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, James LeGros, and AJ Michalka. 15 cert, 90 mins

It’s ironic to find a haven of sisterhood in a place that exists solely to exploit women’s bodies. But then again, life’s always been about those bittersweet contradictions.

The institution in question is the fictional “breastaurant” Double Whammies, the setting for Andrew Bujalski’s new comedy, Support the Girls. Just like its real-life counterpart Hooters, it’s the kind of place that masquerades as a sports bar, when it’s really an excuse for men to ogle at – and be coddled by – beautiful women in tiny crop tops and even tinier shorts. Or, as the film more succinctly puts it, “boobs, brews, and big screens”.

While they’re surrounded by patrons who see them as nothing more than objects and caregivers, the waitresses have still found solidarity in each other, creating a web of protection that actually ends up outdoing the average workplace. Any hint of sexual harassment is immediately confronted. A customer is ejected, without question, for calling a waitress fat. No one is left alone to deal with their own childcare. Even those who get fired are offered help to get back on their feet. And it’s all because of Lisa (Regina Hall), the general manager at Double Whammies. She’s the heart and soul of Support the Girls, a remarkably compassionate portrait of American womanhood that inspires hope without denying reality.

The film is set mostly over the course of a single, particularly troublesome day for Lisa. An intruder has tried to break into the restaurant, only to get trapped in the vents. She’s hesitant to tell the place’s slimy owner (James Le Gros), in case he turns up to discover the off-the-books car wash she’s holding to raise funds for one of her employees, who hit her abusive boyfriend with a car and is now in need of a lawyer. Lisa has intervened in the hope it’ll end the relationship for good. It’s just another part of the bubble she’s trying to create around these young women, allowing them to believe it’s all harmless fun and that they don’t, in fact, work for a company that only lets one black waitress be on shift at any time (although the film never directly confronts race, Bujalski is smart enough not to ignore the inevitable role it plays here).

But it comes with a cost. We see it all etched on Hall’s face: there’s a strain in her smile, and a heaviness to her sighs, adding layers of emotional history that no script could ever hope to express. It’s a brilliant performance. With just one look, we understand that Lisa has spent her whole life taking on other people’s burdens. It’s only when she gets to step outside – away from the blaring TVs and rowdy customers – that she can let the mask drop and feel the weight on her shoulders. She’s even grown to love the sound of the motorways that surround Double Whammies on every side – it’s the soundtrack to her inner reflection. “I close my eyes and it’s like I’m at the beach,” she says.

Equally, the film never lets us forget why this sacrifice is all worth it to her. The women Lisa is guiding are kind, hard-working, and supportive. Particularly her second-in-commands: the high-spirited Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) – who has a habit of yelling “you’re the best and we love you” at her fellow ladies, even in the most inappropriate of moments – and Danyelle (Shayna McHayle), whose energy is distinctly more low-key, though she’s no less of an emotional cheerleader.

Bujalski is frequently credited as the inventor of mumblecore, the movement in early 2000s independent cinema that saw a shift towards ultra-low-budget, unstructured, unflashy realism. He’s moved on since then, but Support the Girls shows how he’s been able to reinvest his interest in the smaller, more intimate aspects of our lives into something more widely accessible. It’s a film that’s as warm and funny as it is grounded in a kind of everyday tragedy. Although the world can be cruel to these women in a hundred ways, both mundane and traumatising, they’ve at least got each other to help navigate their way through it.

Support the Girls is released in UK cinemas on 28 June

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