Support the Girls

The cast of Support the Girls


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.




Support the Girls – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021






Computer Chess

Patrick Riester in Computer Chess

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

9 March

 

Bobby Fischer born, 1943

On this day in 1943, the future chess grandmaster Robert James Fischer was born in Chicago, Illinois, USA. The son of a communist teacher and of either the physicist Paul Nemenyi or the biophysicist Gerhardt Fischer (the FBI believed it was the former), Bobby learnt to play chess aged six and became immediately fascinated with the game. He played against his first master, Max Pavey, aged eight and though he lost it led to an introduction to the Manhattan Chess Club, where he was tutored by William Lombardy, and then the Hawthorne Chess Club, where Jack W Collins was his mentor. By age 13 Fischer was playing 12-board simultaneous exhibitions. The same year he was being credited with having played “the game of the century” against International Master Donald Byrne. By 14 he was US champion. By 16 he had dropped out of school – “You don’t learn anything at school” he said. By 20 he was a multiple US champion with a profile in Life magazine. In 1960, aged 27, and having retired twice already, he set out to win the World Championship, which he achieved in 1972, beating Boris Spassky in a blaze of publicity at the height of the Cold War – the Soviets had had, until 1972, a lock on the world title. Fischer did not play another competitive game in public for 20 years, when he again played Spassky and, in spite of “playing the openings of a previous generation”, according to grandmaster Andrew Soltis, and unwilling to use computers to aid his game, unlike everybody else, he beat Spassky again. He died in 2008 of kidney failure, having spent the years since 1992 in exile from his home country.

 

 

 

Computer Chess (2013, dir: Andrew Bujalski)

Andrew Bujalski is often credited with having invented the mumblecore movement of lo-fi film-making that swept through indieworld in the mid-noughties. It was as refreshing as it was infuriating – not every actor is good at improvising, and making a virtue of that doesn’t make a bad performance better. But Bujalski sidesteps the entire genre with this film, which has all the hallmarks of a late 1970s documentary shot on archaic black and white video cameras. Yes, that’s exactly what mumblecore films looked like too, especially Bujalski’s, but he’s really gone the whole hog here, to the extent that it would be easy to watch for a good 20 minutes or more convinced that what you’re actually seeing is some resurrected documentary being shown as part of a “how quaint we were” retrospective. Bujalski is up to something far more intriguing. The focus of this supposed documentary is a competition held annually by computer nerds in an attempt to find out whose program is best at chess. Simple as. What it’s actually about, though, is the birth moment of the culture we inhabit now – nerdworld – and the death of the dominant touchy-feely culture exemplified by hippies, their free love, letting it all hang out and orgasm as a right. Bujalski focuses on a select few people at the event – Mike Papageorge, the antsy programmer, Shelly, the only woman there and the sort of full-on nerd who doesn’t realise that her tight stripey 1970s sweater really emphasises her breasts, though Mike certainly has. And Peter, a young, speccy programmer who is targeted by free-loving creep Dave and his fleshy belle (Cyndi Williams) – the scenes where they try to get Peter to indulge in a bit of harmless swinging are the film’s highlight, funny yet awful. The cinema loves the 1970s but Bujalski’s noticed something else about it, apart from the hair, clothes, cars and fondness for the colours orange and purple – he’s noticed how alien a lot of it looks now, the re-birthing therapy, the casual sexism, the regular drug-taking, the open marriages. And how seedy a lot of it looks from this end of the telescope. too. Which is why, I’m guessing, he shunts the film from bleachy black and white into a garish Super 8 Kodachrome look for a few minutes towards the end. Partly to demonstrate that there is life outside the airless motel where the weekend of human v computer v chess board is going on. Partly to show us the colour schemes in their full florid glory. Not everyone likes this film. I loved it.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A great film and a real one-off
  • Myles Paige as Mike Papageorge
  • A comedy so bone dry it’s hard to work out if it is a comedy
  • It’s shot on Sony AVC-3260 cameras, a tube camera from the 1970s

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Computer Chess – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Mutual Appreciation

Justin Rice, Andrew Bujalski and Rachel Clift in Mutual Appreciation

 

 

 

A micro-budget black-and-white indie drama, written and directed by one of its co-stars, Andrew Bujalski, who plays the college lecturer graciously helping out old school friend and budding rock musician Alan (Justin Rice) after he relocates to New York. Failing to commit, being vaguely rubbish, avoiding maturity, just sort of drifting about, that’s the over-riding atmosphere delivered by Bujalski’s bittersweet second film, after the highly influential Funny Ha Ha. His inspiration would appear to be the naturalism of early Jim Jarmusch, the awkwardness of Woody Allen, and Bujalski is keen on situations where what is not said is twice as powerful as what is. Embarrassment looms large too, inevitably, so anyone who’s ever been to a gig where almost no one shows up, or remembers the evening they kissed their best friend’s girl/boy, this one’s for you.

© Steve Morrissey 2006

 

 Mutual Appreciation – at Amazon