Lisa starts off her day crying. She sits in her car, silent, and wipes the tears from beneath her eyes before they can fall down her face. Even in privacy, she keeps up appearances. Lisa (a terrific Regina Hall) is the general manager of Double Whammies, a Hooters-type “family” restaurant where “big ass” is a size of beer and the girls laugh with their mouths open and touch an arm but never squeeze (“It gets weird,” warns Maci, played by a shining Haley Lu Richardson). At Double Whammies, Lisa is manager and mother; a generous matron with a clipboard and a shoulder to cry on. Her work philosophy is simple: respect the girls, and respect the customers. And she does, endlessly, to both the aid and detriment of her own well-being.
Under her management is a gaggle of women colorful and complex enough to power the world. There’s Maci (Richardson), an effervescent spitball of positivity, the kind of girl who never has a bad day, not because they don’t exist, but because she doesn’t allow them to. There’s Danyelle (rapper Junglepussy aka Shayna McHayle), the eye-rolling heavy weight, Lisa’s proclaimed right-hand girl. And there’s Janelle (Dylan Gelula), the new girl who learns a little too quickly how to bring in the money. There are many other women, of course, wonderful women, who flit around the sidelines. That is a talent of writer/director Andrew Bujalski: to populate the world in a way that reflects reality. That may sound like a simple task but it’s not. At least, very few directors are bothering to do it, and that’s a shame.
Bujalski has been dubbed the “father of ‘Mumblecore’”, the über-indie film movement of the 2000s, defined by hyper-realistic dialogue and languid plotting. But Support the Girls is no Drinking Buddies. Its realism is born from a commitment to empathy. Bujalski loves these women, just as Lisa loves these women, and so he does them justice. They speak, laugh, cry, scream as real people do, as you and I do. Under the careful frames of cinematographer Matthias Grunsky, we are able to learn their faces and watch as they react to the world. This is especially true of Hall’s performance as Lisa, where she tells her story in her eyes and the corners of her mouth.
Support the Girls isn’t without its faults, of course. It would be unfair to expect otherwise. But the ones that exist are small and far-between. There’s a subplot involving an elderly regular that’s a little too neat, and a running gag with a confetti canon that, while funny, seems ultimately out of place in this world (c’mon, which one of these girls would want to clean up that kind of mess?). It is a testament to the quiet strength of Bujalski’s work that these moments seem out of place.
Bujalski makes small, quiet films, on the kind of budgets that no one wants to work with anymore. They arrive with little fan fair; critics love them, no one else has seen them. It’s a special kind of tragedy: if he were to make movies people went out to see, they wouldn’t be his anymore. It’s a shame Support the Girls will be relegated to this fate. It is a wonderful, warm movie, and I’m happy that it exists. It flashes with life and liberty. It exists free and without abandon. It is the kind of life I wish upon us all.