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Magnolia Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Support the Girls (2018)

Women’s work is never done, they say. Lisa (Regina Hall), the lead character in Andrew Bujalski’s charming “Support the Girls,” knows that better than most. The movie opens with her crying in her car, before another day in the restaurant off a Texas highway that she manages begins.

It’s not your ordinary restaurant. It’s called Double Whammies, and its gimmick is beers, boobs and big screens. The waitresses are young and constantly breaking the first rule owner Cubby (James Le Gros, superb as the villain) has posted all over the staff area: No drama! But of course it’s not only the young women who bring the drama: There’s the guy trapped in the ceiling vents after a failed break-in. Cubby himself is a racist who won’t schedule more than one black waitress per shift. Lisa’s husband Cameron (Lawrence Varnado) hasn’t worked in a while, and doesn’t seem to feel the need, depression or not.

On top of that there are customers: rude ones, armed ones, cop ones, ones with their families, ones who are just there for the fights, others like Bobo (Lea DeLaria) who seem to think of the place as a second home, and others who take umbrage to people like Bobo. The reason why Double Whammies works is obvious, with the skimpy tops and short-shorts the waitresses have to wear. Ones like Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) make it all seem easy. New girl Jennelle (Dylan Gelula) is still too astonished to understand everything going on. Danyelle (Shayna McHayle, better known as the rapper Junglepussy) is deeply unimpressed, whether or not she has childcare for her son McKray (Jermichael Grey). Krista (A. J. Michalka) gets herself fired for disobeying one of the business rules in the funniest possible way. And then there’s Shaina (Jana Kramer), who has gotten herself into a huge heap of trouble and knows she can count on Lisa to get her out of it. And man, Lisa tries. My god, how she tries. She calls in every favor. She sweet-talks every customer, but only so far: if they are disrespectful, Lisa stands up for her girls. Over the course of the day, we see how she is willing to bend the rules for the greater good. And how do these thankless tasks work out for her? Not quite how you’d guess.

In the early aughts Mr. Bujalski invented the mumblecore movement with uncinematic films that made up for no budget with close attention to how working-class Americans talk and interact with the world. This unaffected, pseudo-realistic, deliberately awkward style has had a huge impact on American film and television. He does it again here, by taking the time to tell the stories of the people who congregate in one of those places – a tacky, exploitative restaurant by the side of the highway – that is easy to avoid. Their struggles and ambitions are shown respectfully, which is almost more of an achievement than the movie itself. And it’s done with a very light touch; the only obvious flourish is when cinematographer Matthias Grunsky frames Lisa’s head, as she grabs a minute out back, with a chain link fence. Otherwise you feel right up into it, as if you were there, putting ketchup on some fries and wondering when the fight will start.

It’s easy for the crew to make all this look so casually good with such an excellent cast. Ms. Richardson as Maci does something unseen since Jack Black’s breakout performance in “High Fidelity” – she gives us a fully-formed character well known to people but fresh to the screen. Her Maci is the world’s most positive person, sincere in her desire to cheer people up and with an unforced perkiness (and commitment to drinking chocolate milk through a straw) that would easily grate if it wasn’t 100 percent genuine. Ms. Richardson’s star is on the up and it’s very easy to see why. Everyone likes her, and everyone is willing to help Maci keep a pretty big secret from Lisa. And when Lisa learns it, she understands.

It’s such a treat to see someone like Lisa onscreen too. This is a person able to keep an entire business running mainly through sheer force of will. The quiet ferocity with which she protects her staff is what everyone dreams of in a manager, and she does it despite Cubby insulting her to her face all the time, and the relentless drama. There was some surprise, clearly misguided, about Ms. Hall’s casting. Having her in the role, as opposed to her counterpart Kara (Brooklyn Decker) makes the movie extra interesting. Race comes into it, as it does with everything, but it also doesn’t, and it’s such a change to see a movie simultaneously aware of both of these things. As Lisa circles from the kitchen to the floor to the office in the back, making notes on a clipboard and trying to make sure everyone is well taken care of, we see so clearly how much work needs to be done for everything to run smoothly. We watch every invisible step that goes into taking care of people made visible. We understand exactly why her girls love her so much. And we remember the tears that Lisa cried in her car at the start. This is work, hard work, made harder by the people around her who take her for granted. And isn’t making the invisible visible all that’s needed to make a point?

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