It feels a little dangerous to tell you how good Support the Girls is. Centered on an increasingly chaotic day in the life of Lisa (Regina Hall), a middle-aged woman who manages a Hooters-esque sports bar called Double Whammies, Andrew Bujalski’s movie is almost pointedly unambitious, a story about working-class existence, generational conflict, sexism, racism, and abusive relationships that locates them in the stream of daily life without patting itself on the back for taking notice. It’s a movie whose minor characters are cleanly etched without resorting to types, so richly detailed that you can imagine them living full lives off-screen, yet it reminds you that one of the virtues of movies is, or at least can be, their conciseness. The movie’s hour and a half is over before you notice, so breezy it feels half-finished, yet it’s that quality that makes it stick with you. These lives aren’t over just because you’ve stopped watching them.
Lisa’s bad day isn’t the result of extraordinary circumstances so much as it is a confluence of ordinary ones. There’s nothing she hasn’t dealt with before, but now she’s dealing with it all at once. She’s got to find temporary child care for a veteran waitress, Danyelle (Shayna McHayle), so she can work her assigned shift rather than rescheduling and violating the owner’s “rainbow” policy of never having more than one black woman on the floor at a time. She’s got to keep a close eye on Maci (Haley Lu Richardson), a wild, outgoing server with a tendency to get a little too close to Double Whammies’ customers, especially a college professor nearly four times her age. There are new hires to audition by throwing them right into the mix, including Jennelle (Dylan Gelula), who has trouble understanding Lisa’s insistence that, appearances to the contrary, a bar that issues low-cut tops and curve-hugging shorts to its young female staff is a “family” place and that they should therefore bare only the mandated amount of skin. There’s a fundraiser to stage, in the form of a soapy, suggestive—but not too suggestive—car wash, for a waitress who’s been jailed for hitting her abusive boyfriend with a car, so loosely organized that neither the participants nor the donors seem to know precisely which girls they’re supporting. And, oh yes, there’s a man stuck in the ceiling, apparently caught in the air vents while trying to rob the restaurant’s safe, and when the police come to cut him out, they sever the cable TV just hours before a major prizefight.
Lisa has seen, and endured, crises like this before, but she’ll take her victories as they come. She’s got no illusions about what drives Double Whammies’ business—she describes their model as “boobs, brews, and big screens”—but it’s also a place where she can enforce her zero tolerance policy for disrespect: Unlike at the high-end steakhouse she left to work at Double Whammies, the customer isn’t always right. She’s always on a knife’s edge, this close to either quitting or being fired by her boss (James Le Gros), a volatile demi-redneck who trails a driver home after a confrontation in traffic, then gets socked in the gut by a suburban grandpa before he has a chance to intimidate him. She stands for something, not in the manner of iconic movie figures who are like moral imperatives made flesh, but in the way real people can if they pay attention and don’t miss the moment. It can be tricky to find an experienced actor to embody this kind of plain-spoken dedication to principle without trying to inflate its nobility, but Hall, last seen as an aspiring media mogul in Girls Trip, treats Lisa’s perseverance as a matter of being, not a statement of intent. Lisa is decent to the core, even when she wishes she wasn’t.
Support the Girls has the somewhat grimy, nondescript look of an ’80s sex comedy, which isn’t a style I thought I’d ever be nostalgic for. But like Double Whammies itself, in danger of being displaced by a chain called Mancave that offers a slicker, more corporate brand of sports-bar sleaze, the movie taps into what feels almost like a bygone art, one driven more by personal relationships and community ties than national campaigns and stock prices. It’s fundamentally humble and self-effacing in its approach, so much so that you have to stifle the occasional urge to tell it to just put on a nice shirt and, you know, put itself out there. There’s an alternate universe where Support the Girls was reconfigured as a TV series, where we can return and check in on these characters as their lives develop, as Lisa hopefully progresses toward the life she’s more than earned. But in this universe, Support the Girls ends where it ends, and we’re left to imagine, or decide, what happens next.