'Support the Girls' Finds Heart in a Hooters Knockoff Directed by Andrew Bujalski

Starring: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson and Dylan Gelula
'Support the Girls' Finds Heart in a Hooters Knockoff Directed by Andrew Bujalski
The titular females in Andrew Bujalski's Support the Girls work at a second-rate Hooters called Double Whammies, located just off the highway. Seen as a welcome escape for a clientele that just wants to watch sports on big screens and ogle attractive waitresses squeezed into tight clothing, the film portrays the harsh realities of this particular brand of service work but is more concerned with the strong bonds that are forged as these women struggle to make ends meet amid the daily grind. It's an episodic slice-of-life that meanders so much it can't help but eventually lose its direction, but it's laced with enough humour and heart throughout to make up for most of its shortcomings.

When we first meet Lisa (Regina Hall), the general manager of Double Whammies, she's outside the establishment crying in her car before another day of work. When she finally works up the nerve to go inside, we slowly begin to understand her despair, as she's inundated with one thing after another throughout the day that demands her attention. It starts with dealing with a guy who managed to trap himself in the ceiling and knock out the cable TV while attempting to break into the place, followed by having to train new employees, putting up with the verbal abuse of the short-sighted owner (James LeGros) and trying to raise funds for an injured employee by arranging a car wash.

Fortunately, she's not alone in her efforts to keep the place running, as she has a few loyal employees who are more than willing to work at generating those all-important tips. The bubbliest of these is certainly Maci (Haley Lu Richardson), who coaches the new employees in the finer details, like the best way to feign laughter at patrons' jokes, but she may not be following the ideal practices herself in how she dotes on one older customer. Meanwhile, Danyelle (Shayna McHale) is forced to bring her young son along with her to work, while Lisa diligently tries to find a babysitter to look after the child.

Because of its structure, the film casts a wide net that yields a whole lot of plot threads involving a myriad of characters. This may help in showing the cumulative effect of everything that contributes to Lisa's growing frustration and disillusionment, but it's at the expense of leaving the characterizations rather thin. It may not sound like the harshest criticism to say that we're left wanting to know a lot more about these women, but the film seems so preoccupied with jamming as much turmoil into Lisa's day as possible that you wonder why it didn't hone in more on exploring some of the promising personalities it introduces. Maybe one day we'll learn more about them in a TV show adaptation.

If the story doesn't amount to much more than an abundance of threads that eventually become needlessly tangled, at least there are some good performances, and Bujalski's keen attention to detail and compassion for these women who are doing what they have to do to survive. Hall is particularly effective in portraying a woman who's regularly been beaten down by life but is resilient enough to continue to pull herself back up every day to navigate her way through the same old bullshit. What makes it a little more manageable is that she's not alone — she has her girls supporting her, just as she's supporting them. 

  (Mongrel Media)