Women, black women especially, have often been left to sweep up the things that everyone else in society leaves behind. The same can be said for Lisa, (portrayed by an astounding Regina Hall) in Andrew Bujalski's brutally honest but warm dramedy Support the Girls. Lisa is the general manager of a Hooters-like sports bar, crudely named Double Whammies, in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. She spends her days keeping the local joint running smoothly and mothering the slew of scantily clad 20-something waitresses who report to her. Going well above and beyond her job description, Lisa manages all of the drama and angst that come with being a young woman trying to scrape together a life for yourself while wearing a cleavage-bearing belly shirt and cut-off booty shorts.
Support the Girls opens with Lisa weeping tearfully from the driver’s seat of her car in the parking lot of Double Whammies. At the last minute, she pulls herself together when Maci (Haley Lu Richardson)—an infectiously bubbly young woman who is one of Lisa’s veteran waitresses—knocks on her car window to embrace her for their morning hug. Determined to press forward with her day, Lisa fixes her face and pushes through, checking off a slew of things on her excessively long and ever-growing to-do list. Over the course of the next several hours, she trains some new waitresses, terminates one of her cooks–though it pains her to do so– deals with a police incident and kicks out a rude patron who refused to respect her “zero-tolerance” policy when it comes to harassing her girls. This is only the stuff Lisa is dealing with at work; she’s also trying to come up with a plan for one of her girls who was involved in a violent altercation with her abusive boyfriend. There are also major hints about cracks and issues in Lisa's marriage.
The women of Double Whammies--Danyelle (Shayna McHayle aka Junglepussy) in particular, a no-nonsense single mother--are fantastic and add depth and brilliance to a story that is shepherded by Hall. None of them act as filler characters; they all have interesting backstories and distinct personalities. Though he’s a man telling a women’s story, Bujalski gets it. He often frames Hall in close up, capturing all of the warring emotions of a big-hearted but exhausted woman. Hall’s range complements this framing, as her performance is remarkable. She sits squarely at the center of this narrative with the ensemble cast working around her instead of directly in her lane. As a result, the Girls Trip actress sparkles.
Though Bujaski, a white male wrote the story, he neither erases Lisa’s blackness nor does he seem to attempt to embellish her character with predisposed understandings of black women and how they should move about in society. Instead, he lets Hall breathe life into Lisa in all of her soft Texas drawl and swooped bang wig glory. One of the most visceral moments of Support the Girls was watching Lisa go toe-to-toe fearlessly with her gangly, racist supervisor Cubby (James Le Gros), who has been trying to fire Lisa for years, and he's also adamant about only allowing one black girl at a time to work during a shift. Though Lisa fights against it, Cubby is adamant about not letting his staff get too brown although a black woman keeps his business afloat.
Support the Girls works well, not just because of Hall who helps bring dignity to what could very well be a very degrading world and job, but also because of the humor and heart sprinkled throughout the narrative. Told over the course of one day, we watch Lisa deal with everything that’s thrown her way while simply existing as a black woman in Texas. In the end, Lisa learns that to continue to support her girls, she most first and foremost advocate on behalf of herself.
Support the Girls premieres August 24, 2018.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami.