Film Review: Support the Girls
Andrew Bujalski is one of the great contemporary American directors. You probably wouldn’t know it just from looking at his films, which are more often scrappy and plainly digital in their aesthetics. You certainly wouldn’t know it from listening to the discourse around him, which all too often reduces him down to “the father of mumblecore” – a sub-genre of sorts that is more likely to be derided rather than hailed as the enduring spirit of American independent cinema.
His latest film is Support the Girls, another of his briskly charming dalliances into the lives of people who would rarely be given such sweetly humanistic portrayals as Bujalski affords them. Focusing on the employees – and occasional patron like Orange is the New Black's Lea DeLaria – of a ‘sports bar with curves’, a venue on the highway with scantily-clad female employees and a dozen televisions on the wall that has nonetheless built up a reputation as something of a self-coined family venue with regulars and clientele less likely to harass than they are ask the women to politely be left alone so that they can watch the football.
Regina Hall is Lisa, the general manager of Double Whammies, a woman who has funneled her parental energy and knack of human relations into being the boss of a group of younger women in push-up bras and short shorts. She handles sexist customers with grit, and fires employees with a deft and tender hand before making sure that they finish their shifts because she has nobody to replace them even if they did do something wrong. In one of the film's great details that goes unspoken about by its characters, Lisa wears a loose polo shirt and pants instead of the standard Double Whammies uniform, which immediately paints a picture of the respect from her employees, if not necessarily her professional stature.
Bujalski has crafted yet another female-centered film that seeks to underline just why filmmakers are crazy for seemingly not being able to write these sort of roles into their movies. He makes it look remarkably easy. Support the Girls practices what it preaches in that sense, and like the director’s earlier works such as Beeswax and Funny Ha Ha, shows he has a unique knack for being in tune with these women characters that are so distinctly real. Lisa is a woman who is very much bristling with the tiresome realities of her life yet nonetheless carries on because what else is there to do? She is forced to take the lead on looking for an apartment for an ex-partner. She endures the whims of her affected boss who she supersedes in everything but that all important job title. She even has to put up with women in high positions (Brooklyn Decker and her frighteningly white teeth) who act towards her in a condescending nice gal attitude when all she wants is to be treated and evaluated fairly.
And yet Support the Girls is never the sort of film that treats its characters as sounding boards for the worst of society. There is light and tenderness and friendship to be found, especially with the relationships Hall has with Haley Lu Richardson's Maci and Shayna McHayle's Danyelle. All three give some of the most lived in performances you’ll see all year. They deserve to be in awards consideration, although they sadly won’t. But it’s not just them, the entire cast is sublime and work together as an ensemble with generosity.
It's another sign of Bujalki's skill with casting. His most recent picture, Results from 2015, got great results out of a rare role for Guy Pearce that capitalised on his humour and his body, while giving Kevin Corrigan the sort of sad-sack funny man role that Bill Murray has made a latter-day career out of. The lone objection to this is James LeGros who is too cartoonish as Lisa’s buffoonish boss, Cubby. Although it is a small delight to watch his comeuppance for an act of brutish macho idiocy, even if that does come in the form of another act of brutish macho idiocy. Oh well, what can you do?
The film reminded me of Sean Baker’s The Florida Project if that film that been about people who weren’t insufferable. It’s a film in tune to the realities of life for most people not just outside of America’s big cities, but other western countries, too. People for whom the daily cycle of news and online hate that we bathe ourselves in mean little because they know everything is up to them. It’s sweet, but not syrupy; it’s truthful, but not cynical. It’s a breath of fresh air, accessible, and a real gem of American independent filmmaking from a filmmaker who’s says more in these 90 minutes than many could in double.