The most glamorous visual associated with the new movie Support the Girls can be found in its poster art. Everything inside the film, however, is as grounded and unpreened as a cheap happy hour trip to the suburban sports bar. Written and directed by Andrew Bujalski, who last gave us Results (Results explores complexity of loving with endearingly flawed characters — A film review) and Computer Chess (Film Review: Computer Chess reveals the mystical in the cyber), Support the Girls continues the mumblecore pioneer’s exploration of humor and humanity in the quotidian.
Lisa (Regina Hall) is the manager of Double Whammies, a not so subtle reference to boobs. The serving staff are all women whose uniforms are cropped tank tops and Daisy Dukes. During a day that begins with a foiled burglary attempt and ends with a meltdown over shoddy cable reception during a highly anticipated boxing match, we get to know Lisa as a kind woman working to maintain a dignified front in the face of sexism, racism and some depression (mostly in the form of her husband Cameron [Lawrence Varnado]). At one point he tells him, “I can take fucking up all day, but I can’t take not tryin’,” which speaks to the strength of a character who transcends pity in the face of her frustratingly mundane circumstances, which harbor all kinds of social oppression hidden beneath the comic relief.
Hall is perfectly attuned to keeping her character grounded in the reality of her situation, and she should be recognized for an unshowy performance that is no less powerful in its contained emotional range. Unfortunately, they don’t give awards for restrained acting that feels genuine to the world around us. Hall unites grace and comedy in a manner that keeps her character sympathetic and admirable. Though Lisa goes through a lot, when she cracks, she keeps behind closed doors and away from others. Meanwhile, Shayna McHayle (aka the rapper Junglepussy) makes her acting debut in the movie as Danyelle. She’s the sleepy-eyed, tired-voiced comic relief in the film, offering both a dose of realness and love to her fellow sister. The bubbly Maci (Haley Lu Richardson), who has a squeak in her voice, is the “legend” who knows how to balance flirtation and service with a natural ease. Lisa describes her as “the master” to rookie Jennelle (Dylan Gelula), who bumbles through one crass attempt to harness her sexuality after another.
Bujalski establishes the mundane setting with gusto during neon colored, hand drawn opening credits against a montage of highways and the sound of a song called “Cowboy Up” by Annie Bosko playing through the speakers of a car radio. Then we meet Lisa crying in her dusty compact car, which is missing a wheel cover. It’s Maci who knocks on the window and gives her a hug to start the day “balls to the wall.” Oftentimes, Lisa reminds people that “This is a mainstream place,” referring to the contained sexuality that is the business’ bread and butter. It’s certainly not the food, established early on in a montage featuring a lamely bubbling deep fryer and an overcooked burger patty on a white bun with a leaf of iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato placed on a plastic white plate.
It’s all about the details in establishing the film’s familiar everyday setting. Sounds are especially important. During a home theater demo at a nearby electronics store the sound becomes faintly muffled, as if you’re in that Magnolia section of a Best Buy. Doors creak unobtrusively in a way that reminds you of the real world, as is the sound of crows that gather near a dumpster at the back of the restaurant where Lisa escapes for a cry. In the distance is the ever-present hum of the highway. Bujalski never employs a musical score. This is his musical score. Any music in the movie comes from within the scene, out of some kind of speaker.
It takes some nerve to make a movie that will remind the audience of the real world. Normally you go to the movies for escapism. But Bujalski has never been an escapist. His films run contrary. There is purpose behind it. It’s audacious to think that there’s any genuine relief in escapism. As much as these characters peddle in and surround themselves with so-called suburban comforts and conveniences, satisfaction eludes them. When Maci tells a crying woman heard from off screen, “It’s gonna be alright,” there’s so much context that’s missing, as noted by Danyelle, who says, “maybe she has cancer.” That the unseen woman runs off, never to be depicted after Maci’s affirmation, speaks to the film’s bizarre yet grounded humor. It’s as real a movie than can be expected, subverting all sorts of escapism and transcending it to find resilience in being who you are, even if you are escaping your own truth and finding pain in dealing with it.
Support the girls runs 90 minutes and is rated R. It’s now playing in Broward County at both Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale and Cinema Paradiso Hollywood. On Sept. 28, the film opens in Miami-Dade at Miami Beach Cinematheque. For screenings in other parts of the U.S., visit this link. Magnolia Pictures sent us an online screener for the purpose of this review.
FYI, Junglepussy plays The Hangar Sept. 21 in Miami. Tickets are $15. Get them here.