IFFBoston Movie Review: ‘Support the Girls’
Starring: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, and Shayna McHayle
Plot: The manager of a sports bar has her patience tested.
The workplace comedy use to be such a more prominent subgenre of indie comedy. It’s what every beginner filmmaker knows: the slow death of a rudimentary job. Now, it just seems like the go-to sitcom setting. Movies like Clerks and Empire Records allowed young people to reflect on their choices in high school and forge new identities even if it meant really depressing ends, such as accepting your fate as a townie wage slave. I think that was my main appeal with Support the Girls, which marketed itself as taking place in a Hooters-esque sports bar and grill complete with scantily clad exclusively-female waitstaff.
The problem is it doesn’t really stay there. It seems aching to run out of the restaurant screaming whenever it is. That is the setting that would allow for the most shenanigans to take place, so the workplace setting was never taken full of advantage of. Instead, it felt a little more like a prison.
This is mostly due to the focus being on Regina Hall’s performance as the staff manager/mama bear of the group, rather than the ensemble. She is very protective of her girls, preaching a college movie’s sorority ideal of sisterhood. She nobly draws very clear lines in the sand separating their “family friendly” (their words) sex-positivity from out-and-out objectification, which may have worked if she didn’t also convince one of her girls to flirt with their shopping center neighbors so they could get a deal of stereo equipment. Or take advantage of some new recruits by trying them out with a charity car wash in the parking lot as if they were raising money to get their high school team to nationals.
Sadly, she spends most of the movie running out of the building so she can care for any number of personal goings-on. There is the previously mentioned trip to the stereo store. Also, her husband seems to be suffering from some vague form of depression, which neither she nor he is handling very well. The owner drags her to the bank to deposit the car wash money he wasn’t supposed to know about only to be dragged even further across the city so the owner could act on his road rage. Plus the few times she excuses herself just to get some fresh and stare at the sky waiting for the day to be over.
Director Andrew Bujalski succeeds at making the bar and grill seem like a trap, but he never really gets into the slack off fun that can come out of a job like that. It’s possible that was never meant to be the point, but there doesn’t feel like a different point was substituted. It just feels like it is missing one. They get really close to an alternate point when Hall talks to a manager of another scantily clad bar and grill, and that manager talks down about the bimbo type women they hire. The combination of beauty standards, poor wages, and presumed lack of education hints at society-at-large’s lack of respect for the service industry, but it is more of a post-script than a thesis.
The shining light in all of this is Haley Lu Richardson, who was honestly even a bigger draw for me than the subgenre. She is fresh off last year’s Columbus, where she mixed an anxiety of future existential dread with present-day wide-eyed youthfulness in a nicely reserved platonic romance with shades of Linklater’s Before trilogy. She plays a much different character here: a local Texan girl who is loud and potentially obnoxious, overflowing with joy and delivers on most of the movie’s laughs. She is described by one character in the film (and I paraphrase) as an angel sent from heaven to remind us all what optimism looks like.
The table is set for so many different possibilities here. Female empowerment through sex-positivity. Female empowerment through sisterhood teamwork. Individual improvement by facing the toxicity in your life. And the tragedy of a minimum wage career. Sadly, it only ever scratches the surface of any one of these ideas.