SXSW 2018: 'Support the Girls' Review

The cast of  Support the Girls  onstage at the film's world premiere at the ZACH Theater in Austin, TX. Photo by Alyson Fluhart.

The cast of Support the Girls onstage at the film's world premiere at the ZACH Theater in Austin, TX. Photo by Alyson Fluhart.

Support the Girls is a comedy about the drama of restaurant work, as seen through the mumblecore lens of SXSW veteran, Andrew Bujalski. Regina Hall (Girls Trip, Scary Movie) plays Lisa, the matriarch and manager of a sports bar called Double Whammies, where the all-female serving staff must dress in short shorts and even tighter crop tops. The restaurant is locally owned with only a small pool of regular customers, yet it possesses the same gender politics of its corporate counterparts like Hooters or Twin Peaks. With a narrative arc described by A.J. Michalka’s (The Goldbergs, Super 8) character as “crying, going crazy, then screaming,” the film follows Lisa through her final day working at Double Whammies.

Support the Girls is a worthy addition to the waitress movie canon, even if it can’t quite clear the high bar set by Audrey Shelley’s Waitress. Although the film wears its feminist critique of ‘breastaurants’ on its sleeve, the real emotional takeaway comes from its nuanced, empathetic portrayal of the service industry. Support the Girls bests the more explicitly pro-labor comedy, Sorry to Bother You, thanks to its up-close appreciation of its working-class characters. The all-female serving staff at Double Whammies represents an industry built on thankless emotional labor, from Haley Lu Richardson’s (The Edge of Seventeen, Columbus) embodiment of warm, naïve optimism to Hall’s portrait of customer service pushed to its limits.

Although Richardson doesn’t have much to do during the first two acts, she delivers every pepped-up line with charisma and infectious joy. Newcomer Shayna McHayle (more commonly known by her stage name, Junglepussy) steals every scene she’s in as Lisa’s protégée and confidant, Danyelle. McHayle skillfully balances her comedic dialogue with the gravity of her inner conflict as her boss’ boss attempts to pit the women against each other, as managers are wont to do. There’s a strange spot near the end of the film where Lisa goes missing from the story, despite owning almost every scene prior; this oddness subsides quickly thanks to the charm of Richardson, McHayle, and their castmates, who must figure out how to continue their career without a suitable leader.

There is a question twice posed to Danyelle, once by her manager Lisa and again by the owner of Double Whammies (played by James Le Gros). When asked if she enjoys her job, Danyelle carefully deliberated answer recalls the tightrope walked by those in the service industry who must ensure the satisfaction of customers all while making sure their boss feels just as taken care of. These frustrations of the job are most clearly understood in the finale, as the newly unemployed crew consisting of Hall, McHayle, and Richardson, run into each other at a job interview for a corporate sports bar chain. Lisa talks to a recruiter who characterizes servers, in no uncertain terms, as guideless and undignified, going so far as to advocate for a managerial style that is even more patronizing to its staff and infantilizing of its customers than Lisa expected. The women meet up on the roof of the building after their disenchanting interviews (or auditions, for the servers) and begin to scream, yelling through the frustrations of change and loss. The primal screams over a horizon of labyrinthine Texas freeways provide a strangely peaceful catharsis.