As mid-career rewards go, Support the Girls is a well-deserved gift for Regina Hall. Long appreciated as a comic performer (her loyalty to the Scary Movie franchise was above and beyond the call of duty) but too often underused as a leading man’s wife or girlfriend, Hall assumes full ownership of this warm and funny film. Her triumph is all the more impressive because the setting suggests a very different kind of movie.
Most of the action unfolds at a suburban Texas sports bar that bears a strong resemblance to Hooters. Lisa (Hall) is the ultra-professional manager of Double Whammies, one of those places where the quality of the food has an inverse relationship to the amount of cleavage on display. Still, one of the movie’s jokes is that despite Double Whammies’ reputation, the male customers actually seem more interested in watching TV sports than in ogling the waitresses. One particular day piles on challenges: The police come to toss out a would-be burglar stuck in the air ducts, some women interview for an open waitress position, and Lisa holds a car wash that (for reasons we learn late in the film) the bar’s owner (James Le Gros) has not authorized. Rule #1 at Double Whammies is “No drama,” so this is a lot for the beleaguered Lisa to manage.
In a way, writer/director Andrew Bujalski has taken Rule #1 as his operating maxim, because Support the Girls lets you know early it won’t unfold according to the usual dramatic rules. Plot is secondary to the wry observations and left-field humor; this is definitely a hang-out movie. But plenty is at stake: Through a series of challenges, Lisa keeps learning how complicated it can be to do the right thing. This allows Hall to express various degrees of disappointment, rage, and joy, and she nails them all. Hall has been gaining momentum in recent years, especially in a hilarious slapstick pairing with Kevin Hart in About Last Night (where, refreshingly, she was given equal footing with her red-hot male co-star) and as part of the box-office-crushing Girls Trip. Most great comic actors have soul, and Hall gets to show hers here, while always—absurdly but heroically—remaining the boss of Double Whammies.
Bujalski, who first gained notice as a mumblecore filmmaker (Funny Ha Ha), has a terrific eye for the almost-anonymous setting: Double Whammies sits near an Anywhere, USA convergence of freeways, the on-ramps and off-ramps circling in an uncanny resemblance to purgatory. He sets Hall’s performance firmly amid a strong ensemble, which includes Haley Lu Richardson as an upbeat server, John Elvis as an easily flattered tech salesman, and the towering Shayna McHayle (aka the rapper Junglepussy), who steals scenes like a crafty old pro even though this is her film debut. In its low-key way, Support the Girls touches on gender, workplace politics, and race (another rule at Double Whammies is that no more than one black server should be working at any time). In the kind of bar where the sense of community is as manufactured as its sexy come-on, Bujalski and Hall create an authentic communal glow.