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Movies that take place within a single day comprise a subgenre of film with many stand-out entries—from American Graffiti to Clerks— but it’s also a list overflowing with testosterone. For whatever reason, women are left on the periphery of these stories, as girlfriends who don’t warrant commitment or prizes put on a pedestal. It’s the kind of treatment we expect—but don’t accept—from studio comedies, except these all-in-one-day movies, which typically feature low stakes and character-driven plots, are more often independently made. So what took so long for a funny and fresh female-driven hangout movie like Support the Girls to hit theaters? Let’s just be glad it’s here.
Regina Hall, fresh off her star turn in Girls Trip, is Lisa, manager of a Hooters-like bar called Double Whammies. She’s having a terrible day. Within her first hour at work, she discovers a thief stuck in the vent above the manager’s office. He has accidentally severed the cable, which threatens the restaurant’s ability to broadcast the big fight that night. Beyond her professional obligations, there are also the burdens Lisa takes on herself. One of her waitresses ran over her abusive boyfriend with her car, and Lisa has decided to raise money for her legal fund with an off-the-books carwash during business hours.
Her affection for her waitresses carries her through. Her job may be to manage the restaurant and turn a profit, but her mission is to protect her waitresses from the boorish men that populate their lives. The dudes in Support the Girls are largely pathetic. There are the drunken customers with caramelized onions hanging out of their mouths, the rageful, impotent owner (James Le Gros), and various deadbeat boyfriends. Her waitresses are young and still learning how to handle men. Lisa, with a personal history sprinkled in with just the right amount of detail, has learned long ago.
It’s a winning ensemble piece, but the film succeeds on the back on Hall’s best performance yet. Despite the hijinks going on around her, Hall is steadfastly grounded, never choosing the joke over the emotional reality of her character. Her performance is buttressed by Haley Lu Richardson and Shayna McHale, who play her two most experienced waitresses with truly divergent styles. As Maci, Richardson (Columbus) is a bundle of positive energy, blissfully (and perhaps determinedly) oblivious to the degradations and dangers of her job titillating men.
McHale, a first-time actress, has an authentic weariness that earns laughs without ever reaching for them. When a male customer jokes that he would never touch her without consent, she gets the biggest laugh in the movie by responding with sleepy-eyed matter-of-factness, “I will kill you.”
Yes, for much of the film, writer/director Andrew Bujalski walks a very narrow tightrope in its depiction of the sexism inherent in restaurants like Hooters and its fictional counterpart. Lisa works so hard to create a safe and positive work environment, and the film keeps its mood so light and bubbly, that it’s easy to forget the dangers of its objectification of women. These illusions come crashing down in the film’s final third, but Bujalski reveals his themes so carefully that these events are played for neither laughs nor tears. It’s simply another obstacle to overcome in a lifetime of them for working women. Support the Girls could have been a tragedy, a comedy, or a rallying cry, but in reality it’s all of them at once.
Support The Girls opens Friday at Landmark West End Cinema.