As a Georgia-raised woman, Support the Girls has a homegrown familiarity to it that immediately endears me to the characters. I smile when introduced to Lisa (played with raw sweetness by Regina Hall), with her pressed and curled hair, Texas drawl and loud eyeshadow. She’s the general manager of a Hooters-esque sports bar called Double Whammies–a job she’s clearly too good for. Even in a modest coral button down and jeans (her uniform for nearly the entire runtime), she glides through the film–a patient, generous guardian angel to nearly everyone she interacts with. Lisa is adored by nearly everyone she knows, with the exception of the two most influential men in her life: her boss Cubby (James Le Gros) who is always trying to fire her, and her husband Cameron (Lawrence Varnado), so deep in a depression that he doesn’t even notice how much Lisa is struggling to keep her head above water.
She begins her workday with a mission–to raise enough money for Shaina (Jana Kramer), one of her titular girls, who has to contend with legal fees after running over the foot of her abusive boyfriend Chris (Sam Stinson). Employees Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) and Danyelle (Shayna McHale, better known as rapper JUNGLEPUSSY) act as Lisa’s trusted confidants as she holds an unauthorized car wash. Having so much of the film focused on freeing a woman from domestic abuse immediately endeared me to the narrative. What could have been a broad comedy, framing all the attractive women that work at Double Whammies as catty and self-involved, came across as an achingly truthful narrative about the ways women look out for each other. When Danyelle’s son is sick and she can’t find a sitter, everyone at DW takes turns looking after him. Later in the film when Lisa fires Krista (AJ Michalka), she immediately tries to get her ex-employee another job. The film is great at reminding us that these are women who care deeply for each other–they’re just all dealing with shitty circumstances.
Knowing that it could get her in trouble, Lisa struggles with finding a pretend cause for the car wash. When she suggests branding it as a “sisterhood fund”, butch lesbian barfly Bobo (Lea DeLaria) responds dryly: “Not your market”. She has a point. Double Whammies traffics in male titillation and masculine camaraderie. Still, the restaurant has a certain sisterly warmth to it–owed entirely to Lisa’s kind, den mother influence.
Support the Girls arrives at an interesting time. Hooters is going out of business, bringing an end to the strip club-lite setting that sprang up in the mid-80s. Much like the shrinking relevancy of Playboy, Hustler, Maxim and premium cable softcore porn, Hooters’ demise is an indication of a cultural shift. This shift, as well as the film, presents a question: What are the women who made their livelihoods in these jobs supposed to do now? It’s easy to hope for these women to acquire jobs that are less demeaning, but what if those jobs aren’t available to them? What if, due to their past employment, they aren’t taken seriously for these hypothetically “empowering” jobs? An even more fascinating question: What if these women like what they do, they just want better conditions to do it?
The long-underrated Hall shines in this film, approaching every scene with her trademark charm and a palpable warmth. In a memorable supporting performance, Richardson proves, as with her roles in Edge of Seventeen and Columbus, that she’s a young actress to watch. But perhaps my favorite performance comes from McHale, in her screen debut. Sauntering from scene to scene, McHale effortlessly translates the confidence and implied sexual prowess of her rap persona into her role as Danyelle. Her expressive eyes tell a story of a short, yet eventful life lived.
Support the Girls triples as a snapshot of a dying industry, a realistic depiction of how women are treated in the service industry by their superiors and customers alike, and a portrait of a smart, overqualified woman who gives endlessly–getting little in return. It nearly functions as an inverse of the optimistic classic 9 to 5. In 1980, on the heels of the women’s liberation movement, there was an optimism that conditions for women in the workplace could only get better. Now, nearly 40 years later, we’re left with the realization that we’re still nowhere near where we need to be. Sometimes it’s a relief to see media that reflects the shortcomings of our world and validates our well-deserved anger. Support the Girls may not be optimistic, but there is true catharsis in its grit.