12:00 pm EDT, August 23, 2018

‘Support the Girls’ movie review: A perfect tonic for blockbuster fatigue

Andrew Bujalski’s workplace dramedy, Support the Girls, is the perfect tonic for late-summer blockbuster fatigue.

If you frequently wade into the indie film category on Netflix, you’re likely to find a proliferation of mediocrity; slight little movies about badly behaved teens and metropolitan-dwellers navigating bad relationships, odd jobs, and unresolved issues from their past. These movies aren’t necessarily bad; their biggest crime is being forgettable, damned by their own palatability. Support the Girls is not this.

Written and directed by Andrew Bujalski, Support the Girls is an unexpectedly authentic portrayal of working class camaraderie and resilience that allows the audience to bear witness to one woman’s strength in the face of workplace debacles, complicated relationships, difficult decisions, and harsh realities. With surprising intimacy, the audience joins Lisa – played by the inimitable Regina Hall – as she soldiers through a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Lisa is the general manager of Double Whammies – a sports bar not unlike Hooters located on the side of a busy highway. It’s a job without glamour or perks, yet within the first few minutes of the film, it’s clear that Lisa works harder and cares more than anyone might ever expect.

Lisa leads her girls – a cast of characters including Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, Dylan Gelula, and AJ Michalka – through what is believably just another day of the week – full of unexpected problems (an attempted burglary, a cable outage, vulgar patrons) and well-intentioned efforts that turn to headaches (a car wash to raise money for an employee, an argument with the owner about hiring practices).

Lisa’s plight – if you want to call it that – is not so different than most; with good intentions, she tries hard to make things nice, keep things fair, and do right by those she works with and those she works for. She does all of this with an open and giving heart.

Lisa’s characterization mirrors the way Bujalski approaches telling this story. Sure, this may be Lisa’s terrible day, but she is certainly not alone. With a deft hand and empathetic eye, Bujalski slowly but surely widens the scope of the film – introducing and detailing characters that have their own set of joys and frustrations. Support the Girls is a celebration of life’s cast of characters, shining a spotlight on the ensemble that make up our day-to-day lives.

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Optimism may feel like a dwindling resource in the world right now, but Bujalski’s Support the Girls is overflowing with it, so much so that it’s hard to imagine audiences leaving the theater without feeling a renewed warmth and buoyancy. Bujalski resists pushing the film into dour territory, balancing the film’s darker moments with a sense of renewed optimism and imbuing the moments of celebration with a shadow of realism.

Optimism may be a motivational force pushing the film forward, but Support the Girls is far from a fantasy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; the movie demonstrates a rare portrayal of how complicated everyday life is and how hard the most banal jobs can be. The film exists outside of wealth and fame, melodrama and tragedy; it’s a slice-of-life dramedy that never feels inauthentic. Despite all the curve balls thrown at our protagonists, they respond with smiles – fighting against a current of shit that seeks to drag them down.

Perhaps the best way to describe Support the Girls is to call it a magic trick with Bujalski serving as the master illusionist. As the audience follows Lisa through her bad day, awestruck by her strength and optimism, the movie grafts complex statements regarding class, gender, and race into the story in ways that never feel heavy-handed or trivial. These weightier ideas, woven into the fabric of Lisa’s life with authenticity, sneak up and stay with you even after the credits roll.

Ultimately, the most heavy-handed thing about Support the Girls is its title – a name that sounds more akin to an advertisement campaign than a heartfelt working class comedy. However, like Lisa, the movie wears its heart on its sleeve, making its intentions clear without once feeling fake or naïve.

There is a moment late in the film where Lisa remarks that she loves the sound of the highway. It’s an unexpected admission that took me off-guard. After all, does anyone really love the sound of cars and trucks shooting up and down an interstate all day? Yet, Regina Hall sells it. Just like the whole movie succeeds in selling this world, this bar, and these people as real, genuine, and good-intentioned.

She loves the sound of the highway, just as she loves Double Whammies and her girls: with that knowledge that things in this life can make you happy without being perfect.

Grade: B

‘Support the Girls’ opens in theaters on August 24, 2018

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