Support the Girls

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Support the Girls is an Andrew Bujalski film and so comes loaded with expectation. He’s often cited as the “inventor of mumblecore”, the go-to genre for white hipsters of a certain age, the cultural late arrival at a party already full of shoegazey indie bands.

Since breaking into the scene with 2002’s Funny Ha Ha and consolidating his status with Mutual Appreciation, Bujalski has edged away from the brand he helped build. Beeswax disappointed many fans because it looked like an attempt to go mainstream. Then Computer Chess came along, a “revenge of the mumblecore” movie about chess-playing nerds. Bujalski vindicated.

Results was another shot at a Bujalski-meets-Hollywood movie, a look at the ethos of extreme positivity you run up against in the personal fitness business – the perma-smile of the self-helpers meets the communitarian perma-frown of mumblecore. Interesting, though it didn’t really work.

Bujalski gets it absolutely right with Support the Girls, another look at a locus of positivity and informality and Bujalski’s most accessible film to date. Again absent is the cardboard and string aesthetic but Bujalski has hung on to mumblecore’s loose improvisational feel for a film with a strong documentary vibe. Its subject matter, too, is prime doc material.

It’s a day in the life of a bar, called Double Whammies, one of those Hooters-style places offering boobs, brews and big screens. Beer comes in big pitchers, and the girls wear push-up bras and are always pleased to see you. More precisely, it’s a day in the life of Double Whammies’ manager, Lisa (Regina Hall), as she deals with another round of the same old same old – antsy and over-friendly customers, the TV breaking down, interviewing for a new server, an unexpected visit by the owner, a rat infestation and so on.

Haley Lu Richardson, Regina Hall and Shayna McHale
Maci, Lisa and Danyelle shout for joy

Support the Girls is full of proper actors giving big performances – the fabulous Hall is matched by Shayna McHayle as cynical firecracker Danyelle, and Haley Lu Richardson as stoked livewire Maci, exactly the sort of people you’d expect to meet if this were a real bar and this were a fly-on-the-wall documentary.

Against mumblecore’s slightly fey image, this is a film full of men’s men, who ogle women openly, and women who know they’re being ogled. The centrepiece is of the “girls” running a fundraising carwash, where much bosom is spread over a lot of sudsy windscreen. “Support the Girls” is what they have emblazoned on the bucket they rattle for contributions.

Graham Greene once remarked that it’s the writer’s vocation to be a protestant in a Catholic society and a Catholic in a Protestant one. To be contrary, in other words. In the era of increasing visibility and acceptance of trans rights, of fluid personal pronouns, Bujalski heads in the opposite direction to see if there’s something positive to say about men being men and women being women. He’s more a scout reporting back than an advocate but there’s a refreshing lack of grandstanding “author gets it off his chest” speechifying. Not the mumblecore style.

There’s an Altmanesque light touch on display, in other words, an “it is what it is” approach, comedy one second shifts into high drama the next, and back again. A course correction from the over-schematic Results, Support the Girls is an exercise in letting things hang as loosely as is humanly possible while still holding on to a throughline.

For all its strife and backchat, it’s a lovely affirmative film brimming with human warmth. You could watch it for that alone. Or the performances of the three central actors – Hall, Richardson and McHayle. You could even, push/shove, just watch it because there’s a lot of scantily clad attractive young women in it, beer optional.

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© Steve Morrissey 2021

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