Netflix UK film review: Support the Girls
Leslie Byron Pitt | On 25, Oct 2019Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Cast: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, James LeGros, AJ Michalka, Dylan Gelula, Shayna McHayle
Watch Support the Girls online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Andrew Bujalsk’s next film – the Disney+ remake of Lady and the Tramp, for which he penned the screenplay – will certainly set more tongues (and tails) wagging then his previous, more personal features. However, with Support The Girls, a warm comedy surrounding an optimistic sports bar manager (Regina Hall), as she is tested by her employees, customers, and her home life, Bujalski marks himself out as one of America’s more interesting yet under-seen humanist directors.
The clues were first seen in his humble mumblecore beginnings, with the uneven, yet sympathetic Funny Ha, Ha (2002), while his Sundance darling Computer Chess (2013) showed a clear step up in ambition and directorial assurance, despite being a slight head-scratcher. It was in 2015’s Results, a quirky rom-com/work-com hoedown, that a core aspect of what makes Bujalski’s work tick became more apparent. His ability to mine empathy from little-known sources, at his best, is quite arresting. This film climaxes with a cathartic act that has been employed in other films of independent ilk, but while in, say, 2004’s Garden State, you might roll your eyes, Bujalski’s building of story and character is so honest that you catch your breath.
Hall plays Lisa, an overworked, underpaid manager of a Hooters-style bar. Does she love her job? Not all of it. The owner undervalues her, the naivety of the young workforce often tests her patience, as do the customers. But we have all known a manager like Lisa. Perhaps some have been a manager like her. Someone who knows the job inside out. Someone who gets the benefit of the doubt because she knows how fast all the plates are spinning. Someone able to keep everything from crashing down.
Regina Hall gives a powerhouse performance as the manager who does what she hates, because she loves who she works with. A woman who wipes her tears away before the day starts. A woman who never lets her problems at home get in the way of staying firm with an abusive customer.
Anyone who’s worked in retail has heard the snark of an arrogant patron claim that they could do that person’s job standing on their head. What Support the Girls pulls off so well, particularly in the first act, is how quietly chaotic these workplaces are. The foosball table has been removed, so that’s one regular already slightly irritated. We’re unobtrusively informed of the difference between being mainstream and adults-only, how it can change a dynamic for the worst. The new girl doesn’t get the right balance of interaction with the customers, which we can sense will become problematic. Someone must be let go, but you can’t be short on the chef rota.
We watch Lisa’s continuous juggling act on tenterhooks. The way Bujalski slowly stacks the load, one piece at a time, is a clear example of how his direction has grown in confidence, but placing Regina Hall as the central character is what helps the film achieve its high marks. This would be a fine film with many actresses in the lead, but the casting of Hall as a black female manager, one who is not even able to schedule too many women of her own skin tone on shift at the same time, helps establish the film as not only a fly-on-the-wall comedy, but an astute examination of womanhood for a person of colour; just by assuring its casting is on-point, the dynamics feel so much more attuned to the social issues currently facing areas of America.
Bukalski’s previous films have often featured women who are prickly and guarded, but always grounded. In Lisa, he creates his most open, and most rounded, female character yet, and she’s surrounded by very honest and believable female relationships. Elements like this are what makes Support the Girls work.
It would be easy to dismiss the film at first glance. Would people really be interested in a workplace comedy in a sports bar named Double Whammies? Some might be, but not because of what is found here: Support the Girls isn’t just a simple comedy wrapped around some warm cinematography. Bujalksi mines pathos in a location that could easily be viewed with derision and does so with attention to detail and earnestness, creating one of the biggest-hearted films of the year. The ability to create big emotions from tiny moments is a valuable trait in a director. It’ll be interesting to see what he does with those dogs.
Support the Girls is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.