‘Support the Girls’ is more ‘tragi-’ than comedy
Dylan Gelula, Shayna McHayle, Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, and AJ Michalka in “Support the Girls”
If you’re having a bad day, seeing Lisa’s might make you feel better about that. She’s the general manager of Double Whammies—the fictional equivalent of Hooters or Twin Peaks—where servers wear small hot-pink tops with short denim shorts and try to upsell big mugs of beer to men who just wanna watch the fight.
A distinctly American film taking place somewhere in Texas that looks like Dallas metroplex, “Support the Girls” follows Lisa (Regina Hall) along a purgatorial workday, while carefully avoiding the stereotypes one might associate with “breastaurants” or the Lone Star State.
Director Andrew Bujalski’s avoidance of typecasting amplifies this film’s Americanness. Just as the Texas clichés are toned down and servers are written as performers rather than props, the film features strong black women leads—Hall, alongside hip-hop artist Junglepussy (a.k.a. Shayna McHayle)—whose roles do not depend on jokes about their culture nor their blackness alone. An honest portrayal of diverse American workers and patrons feels refreshing to watch when most comedies today go for cheap laughs.
It’s almost unfortunate that “Support the Girls” is billed as a comedy. Tragedy far outweighs the humorous aspects: Everyone is generally having a shit day in the movie—that’s its premise. Half of the time, it feels masochistic to laugh at the level of tension and misfortune onscreen. But Bujalski’s writing does express an absurdity behind the shittiness. In turn, the characters deal with their problems cathartically: they let go, cry, scream, and laugh at themselves. Audiences expecting sexy laughs à la “American Pie” might not know how to feel, but this film wasn’t meant for them.
Banter between Lisa and a regular sitting at the bar sums up the humor pretty well:
“So, since ya’ll aren’t on your shift,” he asks, “does that mean that you still have to laugh at my jokes, or no?”
“Are your jokes funny?”
“Half the time.”
“Okay, that’s not good enough.”
Whether this was an intentional meta-comment on the film’s heavier themes, the absurd situations are taken up a notch as the “sports bar with curves” devolves into chaos when Lisa is led to her wits’ end. Bujalski expertly balances the girls’ personal / work relationships, and some of the best parts of the film are when this line is crossed.
“Support the Girls” ends up presenting itself as a heartfelt portrait of contemporary American culture. Bujalski even includes a subtle critique of corporate restaurants talking over metropolitan areas—even if Lisa’s incompetent, small-business-owner boss Cubby (James Le Gros) kinda deserves to be swallowed by the competition—Lisa shows us how a good manager should treat their underlings, which isn’t like commodities, as corporate might think.
Ultimately, this film defies expectations by presenting the service industry in a realistic way we can all relate to. It derives its humor from the real-life fact that work sucks. The extraordinary aspect of the film is its ordinary tone—this is a film without embellishment, and it’s believably absurd.
“Support the Girls” opens Friday, Sept. 7 at Circle Cinema.