The following should be an obvious point: The setting of a movie is important. By this, I don’t mean that only films settled into certain locales can have value. It’s that the setting — whatever the setting — should inform the storytelling, the characters, the themes. Too often, where a film takes place is an afterthought, or at least incidental. Even when the focus is on the dynamics created within that setting, as is the case with a workplace comedy, the realities of execution lead to a blankness that’s perhaps meant to imbue a sense of the universal, but more often confers nothing more than a lack of personality. A film ideally is broadly relatable, but it shouldn’t feel as though it could be taking place anywhere.
One of the key strengths of Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls is that it could only be set where it is set, and yet it contains experiences that are recognizable as true and widely felt. The film is centered on Lisa (Regina Hall), the day manager of a Texas sports bar called Double Whammies, where the staff of young woman are uniformed in tight, midriff-baring tops and shorts made with a bare minimum of fabric. Hooters is the obvious comparison, but Double Whammies is yet further down the food chain, a one-off rather than a chain, pulling in a leering clientele who up their tips when the hospitality efforts include just the right quantity of affectionate arm touches.
The locale is ripe for satire, but that’s not where Bujalski’s interest lies. With a sociologist’s gentleness, he dramatizes the challenges that come with working in such a place, but holds no one up for mockery. Played with marvelous grace by Hall, Lisa is a manager who cares about her workers, but is no-nonsense as well. She extends generosity without allowing herself to lapse into doormat status. When workers commit fireable offenses, that’s exactly the outcome they face. And when the need arises for creative workarounds, Lisa is ready to bend the rules — without quite breaking them — to achieve the desired outcome. It is a testament to both the insights of the Bujalski’s script and balance of his directing that the single day of mounting dilemmas experienced by Lisa never feels like a contrivance. It’s simply tough working for a living beneath the Double Whammies sign.
Support the Girls offers perfect comic commentary while simultaneously giving a skilled cast the chance to develop deeply interesting and stealthily surprising characters. In addition to Hall’s fine work, there are terrific performances by Haley Lu Richardson, as the perpetually upbeat Maci, and newcomer Shayna McHale (better known as the rapper Junglepussy), as the sharper-edged Danyelle. They and the rest of the aces ensemble help immeasurably in filling in the corners and creases of Bujalski’s expertly hand-stitched story. Bujalski made a clear effort to understand the parameters of the setting he depicted, and he also knew to smartly populate the place to ensure his observations ring true. Support the Girls simply gets everything right.