So much happens in the ninety-odd minutes of Support the Girls in which Lisa, the manager of a Hooters-like roadside bar played by Regina Hall, tries to maintain her positivity during a tough day, but none of the film’s conflicts fully resolve either, as in life. The wonderfully subtle comedy therefore feels utterly real while managing to pack itself full of satire, presenting the exploitative setting and the characters that inhabit it both authentically and ironically: no easy task for a male screenwriter director like Andrew Bujalski.
Bujalski has been referred to by some as “the godfather of mumblecore,” a subgenre referring to the naturalistic style of dialogue in his films, but it’s a title he hasn’t always embraced. “[Mumblecore] was a tag that got applied more than a decade ago now to some kind of low budget, chatty, character-focused movies,” he says. “At the time it felt like you pour your heart and soul into something and then people want to reduce it to a funny word, but in retrospect it’s something that I feel more warmth about to the extent that there was a creative and supportive and productive community, so I’m plenty happy to be associated with that.”
Support the Girls, which opened in theaters on August 24, 2018, has a graceful, understated narrative that unfolds more like a vignette than a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Lisa Conroy’s day begins with a foiled break-in at Double Whammies, where she manages a staff of scantily-clad waitresses and a clientele whose devotion can be alternatively creepy and charming. As an introductory example, an impromptu car wash fundraiser designed to help with the legal costs of an employee in an abusive relationship immediately shows the kind of manager-with-a-heart-of-gold we’re dealing with in Lisa.
“The best I can do to summarize it is it’s a movie about a very determined, incurable optimist having her optimism battered over the course of a day,” says Bujalski. “It’s the story of what she goes through, what she gets out of that, and what it means when the best of intentions blow up in your face. All Lisa ever wants to do is take care of people and be good to people and to an almost pathological degree, and it gets her in trouble. The movie is that journey, and I think maybe the movie is also posing the question then, ‘What is the value of good intentions? Is it still worth something even if they don’t work out the way you wanted?’”
The naturalistic feel of Support the Girls doesn’t come from the improvised dialogue associated with mumblecore, however; it’s the fact that Lisa and her girls are far from perfect, and the customers and the overbearing owner of Double Whammies aren’t entirely bad. “For me as a writer and as a human, I’m not that interested in heroes and villains,” Bujalski explains. “It’s not terribly appealing to me to knock over a straw man or to put somebody on a pedestal. I’m always just trying to meet people where they are… I can’t write a character I can’t, on some level, like… It’s also the reality of a lot of our lives; I think a lot of us are sympathetic while being faintly ridiculous.”
Lisa’s marital woes in the film are particularly enlightening, since her devotion to her girls might come across as even stronger than her bond with her husband. “Regina and Lawrence Varnado, who plays her husband, were so good,” praises Bujalski. “They got across so much with so little. When a relationship crumbles, it’s rare that you can say, ‘Well, it’s because you did this.’ It’s usually because there’s a whole complicated web of things in how people are interacting and how these little problems get reinforced and turn into big problems… I thought there was a real beauty and a real poetry to what those two actors were able to get across.”
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Much has been made of Hall’s performance in Support the Girls, Lisa being a challenging role to enact in a film the premise of which Bujalksi admits may have been a tough sell for some. “I’m sure there were plenty of actors who saw the log line that said, ‘Here we are in a Hooters-esque sports bar,’… who didn’t read past that, but the ones who were game enough to give it a read and maybe could sense a little of what we were going for, we couldn’t have been luckier to pull together the group that we did. For me, top to bottom, it’s quite an extraordinary cast. And of course Regina as the lynchpin, she holds everything together.”
Support the Girls also includes excellent performances from Haley Lu Richardson as the bubbly Maci and Shayna McHayle as the perfectly dry Danyelle, communicating a powerful message about gender, race, and life without once becoming overbearing, a testament to Bujalski’s script and the acting in the film. “I’ve done six features now, and there’s certainly not a single one that I would say, ‘Well, you could cast anybody and it would work.’ That’s never the case for my films,” Bujalski asserts. “I’m always throwing myself open to the heavens and saying, ‘Please send me the perfect people,’ and I’ve been profoundly lucky to have that work out for me a few times.”
Michael Ahr is a news writer and podcaster here at Den of Geek; you can check out his work here or follow him on Twitter. The full audio of the above interview is available on The Den of Geek Podcast (at 24:09).