'Support the Girls' is a Ray of Sunshine in a Stressful, Sexist World

Set in a small-town Hooters equivalent called Double Whammies, Support the Girls (dir. Andrew Bujalski) follows the bar’s haggard but surprisingly optimistic manager, Lisa (Regina Hall), as she attempts to keep the whole operation together and her employees on track over the course of what we eventually discover is her last day of work. Life is, admittedly, not rosy for Lisa: she is in the middle of a long separation from her husband, and her stubborn and slightly unhinged boss, Cubby (James LeGros), has been trying to fire her for months because he thinks she’s too controlling. In addition to that, a national chain of Hooters stand-ins has just opened up a new restaurant down the highway from Double Whammies, threatening to wreck their business model, and one of Lisa’s waitresses has just been arrested for hitting her boyfriend with her car—although everyone says he deserved it. In spite of all this, each woman finds a way to stay positive as best she can, and it’s this resilience that makes Support the Girls so interesting.

The movie pulls no punches in showing how challenging it is to work at the bar for all of the women involved. The staff is largely made up of unskilled young women who face harassment on a daily basis and even have to encourage this behavior to some degree for tips. In an early scene, a bubbly older employee, Maci (played fantastically by Haley Lu Richardson), instructs a group of new recruits on how best to engage with the customers: Bone up on sports, touch their arms when you can and laugh at their jokes with your mouth open as wide as possible. Customers are shown insulting the women’s looks and degrading them in other ways, such as when Danyelle, Lisa’s most reliable employee (a wonderfully deadpan Junglepussy), has beer poured on her by a customer as he walks by without acknowledging her presence. Racial tensions are also addressed when it’s revealed that Cubby upholds a “race quota,” under which no two women of color can ever work at the same time, even if the bar is understaffed.

For Lisa, managing the bar is a juggling act of being a bar hostess and a business owner at the same time. Because Cubby is largely absent, it is up to Lisa to call the cable company when their TVs are shut off or to make sure everyone can make their shifts. But on top of that, Lisa takes it upon herself to make sure all of her employees are well taken care of: She raises money for her waitresses when they’re in trouble and helps them find childcare when they need it, besides being more than happy to kick out any patrons whom she sees behaving handsy or disrespectful.

Issues of pacing aside, the movie overall is a heartening and satisfying depiction of the emotional labor it takes to be a woman in the workforce and shows the strength women gain from their relationships with each other. Even though Lisa is effectively working a double shift between managing her family and managing the restaurant (and she isn’t the only one dealing with complicated family dynamics—Danyelle, a single mom, has to bring her son to work with her because she has no one reliable to watch him), she finds strength and fulfillment in helping her employees with anything she can and realizes that they help her as well. The movie shows the different ways each woman finds to maintain a positive outlook in the face of casual sexism, financial strain and the other daily stresses of working a service-industry job, without skirting around the degree to which those factors take a toll on a person’s happiness.

One of the most poignant moments in the movie comes when Lisa, frustrated with how things are going, is taking a breather in the Double Whammies parking lot. Suddenly, Maci pops out of the back door with a confetti gun, sets it off and shouts, “You’re the best and we love ya!” before going back inside. Even though in moments like this Lisa is typically surprised (and somewhat confused), it’s these small acts of overwhelming affection that keep the movie and its characters going.