Review: Regina Hall exceptional in sisterhood indie 'Support the Girls'

Regina Hall stars in "Support the Girls."


By KATIE WALSH | Tribune News Service | Published: August 24, 2018

Andrew Bujalski’s “Support the Girls” is the perfect bait-and-switch of a film. Its light, sweetly frisky exterior and easygoing pace camouflages what a subtle and brilliant piece of bracing social commentary it is; a deft portrait of sisterhood existing under the thumb of capitalistic patriarchy.

And it wouldn’t work without the anchor of an exceptional performance by Regina Hall.

Hall is Lisa, the general manager of a Texas restaurant named Double Whammies, and the mother hen of a flock of scantily-clad waitresses. While the girls fluff their cleavage and give new recruits tips on harmless flirting with customers (laughing with your mouth wide open), Lisa reiterates her “zero tolerance policy” on disrespect, which can be anything from groping to commenting on a girl’s body, and she doesn’t hesitate to enforce it either. The word she uses most often is “family,” and she loves her girls with a fierce, motherly love. That doesn’t mean it’s unconditional.

Bujalski’s film captures the ebb-and-flow rhythm of life behind-the-scenes at the restaurant, falling into the category of films like “Empire Records,” workplace ethnographies that reveal a rebellious streak. The energy slides from laid-back, embodied by the laconic, no-nonsense Danyelle (Shayna McHale, who is incredible in her screen debut), to the explosively peppy, thanks to sugar-high cheerleader Maci (Haley Lu Richardson). Lisa, all the while, floats from crisis to crisis with a slightly anxious air, though there’s not a hair mussed on her Shake-and-Go wig or smudge in her silver eyeshadow. She simply handles it: a would-be burglar trapped in the vents, a cable line cut, several over-enthusiastic regular customers, a waitress lying low at Lisa’s house after hitting her abusive boyfriend with her car.

But this isn’t some madcap screwball comedy, as Bujalski finds the moments of quiet in the chaos, the time to bask in the sun, the stolen moments where Lisa can find some quiet comfort. Despite the burglars, the cable, her angry boss, her crumbling marriage, above all else, Lisa supports her girls, her family. Everything else can wait, but not her girls.
Because who else will support them if not Lisa? Not the customers who ogle and comment, and not the male manager, who views them as chattel to be pimped out.

These threads of obvious but tolerable misogyny are laced throughout the film. The girls know how to use it or how to ignore it, but it’s always there in the ether, dictating their behavior, the presentation of their bodies, how they exist in a space.

Lisa sees them not as bodies but as the people that they are, their struggles, their kids, their poor choices and bad boyfriends. She humanizes these women under the crushing weight of a system that doesn’t see them for their individuality, their quirks and idiosyncrasies. Under that enormous pressure, she bends but never breaks. As much as she tries to leave that world behind, she can’t abandon her family.

Bujalski knows that true liberation lies in the in-between, the cracks and slivers of time and space when the girls don’t have to be looked at, or generate income. The film climaxes with a beautiful, sacred expression of that sisterhood forged in stolen freedom, and even some rage at the machine. Damn the man. Support the girls.

3 1/2 stars
Cast: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, Dylan Gelula, Aj Michalka, James Le Gros
Directed by Andrew Bujalski
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Rated R for language including sexual references, and brief nudity.

©2018 Tribune Content Agency, LLC
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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