One might expect a movie set at a rowdy Texas water hole called Double Whammies (comparable to Hooters, but, given the name, just as likely a riff on Twin Peaks) to be a crassly exploitative farce, but Andrew Bujalski’s “Support the Girl” is much more sensitive than sensationalist. It has its share of loud, goofy moments, but they’re embedded in a story that takes the problems of women who have little choice but to work in such an establishment seriously, and deals with them quite generously. Like the joint at its center, the movie is somewhat untidy and rough around the edges, but Bujalski’s affection for the characters comes through.
The general manager of the struggling sports bar is Lisa (Regina Hall), who has her hands full trying to help out her crew of waitresses with their personal problems while ensuring that they’re not harassed by rude customers and placating her slimy boss Cubby (James Le Gros), who sees her as an enemy in spite of the fact that she keeps the place running. Of course Lisa has troubles of her own, recently separated as she is from her husband Cameron (Lawrence Varnado).
But though she’ll occasionally take time out for a short cry, or simply to look at the birds in the parking lot, Lisa is quickly on her feet again, glad-handing customers and encouraging her girls, both veterans like solemn Danielle (Shayna McHayle) and volatile Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) on the one hand, and recent hires like flirty Jennelle (Dylan Gelula). Lisa will make certain that when they bring their kids in on their shifts, they’ll be welcome, and when they get into potential legal trouble she’ll make an effort to help them out of the jam. At one point she even organizes a “Support the Girls” carwash, though when Cubby shows up unexpectedly she’ll have to make excuses and hope for the best.
The movie has a rambling, disorganized quality; Bujalski prefers to keep things loose, and the movie tends to meander from one mini-crisis (like throwing out a burly guy who’s insulted one of the staff, or keeping order when the cable goes out on the day a big boxing match will be televised) to another (as when Lisa’s effort to assist one of the girls comes up against her wrong-headed decision to take up with a loser of a boyfriend). But the lack of structure reflects the disorder of the establishment where it’s set, and of the lives of the women who work there. Ultimately the very survival of Double Whammies will be threatened by the arrival nearby of a national franchise called ManCave, and Lisa and her crew will find it opportune to talk to that chain’s recruiter Kara (Brooklyn Decker).
Hall dominates the picture with a turn that’s feisty one moment and melancholy the next. But it’s not simply a solo vehicle for her: McHayle, Richardson, Gelula and the other girls each have at least one moment in the spotlight, and Le Gros makes a convincingly nasty piece of work who, in the end, will learn that the job of manager is not an easy one. There’s also a nice cameo by Lea DeLaria as a regular, a lesbian who isn’t afraid to stand up against guys who don’t show the proper respect. And while technically the picture is more than a little rough, production designer Jake Kuykendall and cinematographer Matthew Grunsky capture the rather grungy ambience and editor Karen Skloss keeps the running-time to a trim ninety minutes. Colin Wilkes’s costumes expertly mimic the attire waitresses in such dives wear, too.
“Support the Girls” ends quite literally with a sequence that recalls Helen Reddy’s famous line, “I am woman, hear me roar!”—and Bujalski’s likable, sometimes moving treatment of the Double Whammies’ wait staff, by following the injunction of the title, has earned the right to use it.