Photo | Burn Later Productions
Support the Girls” is an unusually subtle story of would-be women’s liberation, that could have gone so many other ways, but always lands in reality and pitch-perfect performances. It concerns one day in the life of a Hooters-style restaurant, where a range of young women, clad in very small shirts, are ably shepherded by their beloved manager Lisa (Regina Hall). The film’s title is as suggestive as the restaurant’s name, Double Whammies, and it has a message of what we — in the quaintly optimistic 1990s — used to call “girl power” that is grounded in a rather bleak reality. These girls support each other, but in a restaurant powered by cleavage, the glass ceil- ing is all one is likely to get uplifted into.
Minute by minute, this film lays bare the limits of any kid of “Me Too” movement, and the very unchanged reality for many, many women. But this is in no way a “cause” movie or a “soapbox” movie. Like Lisa herself, this story is just getting things done within the existing system. Lisa is not trying to break free or liberate her employees; she stays within the system, to protect her girls from the inside.
Not a bit of these issues are stated; they are simply and truthfully expressed through highly believable performances. Hall, in particular, commands the role of Lisa, the quintessential mom, managing everyone’s problems before her own. Hall does this incredible thing where the audience sees her adjusting her personality to accommodate every different situation she encounters and subsequently fixes. You can see her doing it with every different person she meets and it is masterful. Like Elastagirl from “The Incredibles,” her superpower is flexibility.
It’s so interesting to watch Lisa and eternally perky bartender Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) teach these skills to the other women. Maci recommends an open-mouth smile that she emphasizes is not required but works well for her, and suggests safe spots to touch a customer, while never ever going so far as to squeeze. These women are like geishas in jean shorts, prescribed a specific amount of time to flirt at each table.
“Support the Girls” just takes us through a day in their lives that ends up being significant, as Lisa faces both standard and unusual challenges. She finds a would-be thief stuck in the ductwork on his way to try to rob the safe. She is not particularly nonplussed by his presence, and the main problems are that the cable is knocked out the day of a big televised fight, and that the police trigger the undesirable attention of the owner, Cubby (James Le Gros), a doofus towing a cheap boat. Lisa has been organizing a car wash to raise money to give to one of their waitresses who ran over a boyfriend who apparently deserved it, and Cubby’s presence is highly undesirable.
This film is not an exposé, or a call to arms; it is just a very accurate character study. There are no heavy villains, just entitled men of many stripes, and women pretending to like them so they can earn a couple of bucks. The height of the stakes vary from case to case, but it is always some version of the same transaction. It was amazing to see these women flirt for their lives and livelihoods. There is a lot portrayed by the mask of femininity and why women wear it. It was wearying to see, just like it is sometimes wearying to wear. Every performance was spot-on.
Despite the characters’ intractable struggles, this film is not a depressing experience. It is moving because Lisa is such a beautiful character, and it is also funny in a sharp and ironic way, nonstop. It snaps and crackles with situations and comments thrown out naturally that are simply hilarious. A female corporate shill from the encroaching competition, Mancave, states that they are “transitioning from boobs to butts,” and two adult females shake their heads thoughtfully. The corporate woman is a proud, former Mancave waitress, still plaster- ing the same fake smile across her pretty face, another interesting contrast to the caring and genuine Lisa, two women negotiating the same murky waters. T’was ever thus, and “Support the Girls” does not suggest that t’will be any different any time soon.
“Support the Girls” is currently available to rent.
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