It’s a bit serendipitous that “Support the Girls” would hit theaters in the same week that Twitter was sent all aflutter by the recirculated assertion that millennials “are killing” Hooters. After all, the workplace at the center of this workplace comedy is a Hooters-like establishment where pretty, young waitresses in tiny polo shirts serve giant beers and heaping plates of buffalo wings.
But, of course, there’s much more to the story than this simplistic premise. Or, well, there’s more. Perhaps not actually that much.
Regina Hall is Lisa, the General Manager of Double Whammies, a locally owned, non-franchised restaurant. It’s the kind of place the locals go, as well as tourists and passers-by. Lisa loves her girls, holding fast to the attitude that they are family. Sometimes that’s easy; sometimes it isn’t. But it’s Lisa’s management style, and it works. Most of the time, anyway. Lisa’s very long; bizarre day begins with her crying in her car in the parking lot. And things just go downhill from there.
We soon meet Maci (Haley Lu Richardson), a bright, bubbly young lady. She possesses the kind of hyperactive enthusiasm that would be annoying if it wasn’t so sincere. Maci instinctively knows how to summon a smile, whether through a well-timed confetti canon or a booty-shaking bar dance.
Lisa and Maci start off interviewing prospective new waitresses. The group interview includes a very eager Jennelle (Dylan Gelula), who goes on to spend a lot of the movie forgetting the difference between their “family restaurant” and a gentleman’s club.
While the group interview is in progress, Lisa is simultaneously dealing with a would-be burglar who accidentally trapped himself in the ventilation system above the room where the safe is stored. She deflects their questions about whether she reported the break-in to Double Whammies owner Ben Cubby, and returns to her employee hopefuls with the announcement that they are having a car wash fundraiser and could use some help.
The fundraiser is really where the story starts to take shape. It is an effort to raise money for Shaina (Jana Kramer), who was arrested the night before for beating up her garbage boyfriend and sending him to the hospital. They need to raise money to hire her a lawyer, and, as you can imagine, a lot of guys in the Dallas, Texas area happen to need their car washed that very day. Trying to avoid a lot of awkward questions about the purpose of the fundraiser, the collection can merely read “Support the Girls!”
Other employees begin showing up. Most of them don’t have names. But Danyelle (Shayna McHayle) arrives for her shift with her son in tow. He’s sick and can’t go to school, but childcare is also an issue. For some reason, Lisa arranges for another co-worker to swing by and pick up the kid. It’s not clear why Danyelle herself can’t make the call, but it’s another check on the list of all the ways Lisa is sort of the mom to this group of ladies.
As the day wears on, the police extract the attempted burglar from the ceiling but knock out the cable in the process. A sports bar unable to broadcast sports is kind of a problem. Especially when there’s a big fight scheduled for that very night. Regulars drift in, and so does the boss, Cubby (James Le Gros). He and Lisa have a tumultuous working relationship, and he utters more than once his long-held interest in firing her. It sets him up as something of the villain in a film that doesn’t necessarily have or need one.
“Support the Girls” is often very funny, and in a way that feels real. Work is funny, even when it’s not a great day. Under Lisa’s care, the girls are family. There’s drama among them, but not enough to disrupt business. They look out for each other, but none more carefully than Lisa. It is refreshing to see a movie feature a collection of very different female personalities that don’t all feel the need to fight. Even in a movie whose chief setting is a bar devoted to objectifying women, writer, and director Andrew Bujalski doesn’t feel the need to tack on a tasteless chick fight.
But he also doesn’t feel the need to tack on much in the way of character development for anyone besides Lisa. And even hers could use a little more. The girls all have distinct personalities, but they don’t seem to have much going for them outside of their jobs. And the script doesn’t feel the need to explore that.
For instance, Maci’s unending river of optimism. Is that her genuine attitude about life? Or is she masking something sad? Does she live alone or with her parents? Is she working to pay the bills or put herself through school or both? Danyelle has a son and the signs of single motherhood are there, but is a dad in the picture? Is there more to her story? And many of the other girls don’t even have names, let alone backstories. In a movie about women, and that is actually called “Support the Girls,” it isn’t concerned with really knowing the girls whose stories it tells. It is a perfect metaphor for so many men who claim to be allies in the #MeToo movement, and, when pressed, have no idea how to explain what that even means.
Bujalski presents a story that is often quite endearing and never offensive. There are terrific performances to enjoy, especially Hall, Richardson, and McHayle. But it doesn’t do much to advance the cause of women. A growing nationwide chain, Man Cave, threatens to snatch up their customers with a similar business model (“but we’re focused on butts now”), but there are only ever hints that this type of business is problematic in our current climate. It’s not that Bujalski needs to overtly decry the archaic misogyny of a place like this. But it is given sort of this winking nod, treated as more of the eye-roll mixed with a grin where you know it’s wrong, but you’re having fun, so it doesn’t matter. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if there was any interest in giving the women any depth.
“Support the Girls” is charming and heartfelt. It doesn’t always know where it’s headed, but at least it wants to have a lovely time along the way.