' ' Cinema Romantico: Support the Girls

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Support the Girls

“Support the Girls” opens with a montage of location shots showing the Texas Interstate system where multitudinous cars rush around mix masters and along multi-lane freeways. If it does not seem part and parcel to the film’s predominant setting, a Hooters-ish independent restaurant called Double Whammies, the familiar omnipresent sonic whoosh that goes hand in hand with traffic congestion sort of evokes the white noise of testosterone-themed restaurants like the one in question where all the waitresses in low-cut tops and tightly cropped shorts are conveyed as window dressing, scantily clad ornamentation in addition to the big game on the big screen, clearer when the cable TV keeps going out and the patrons look past the ladies in search of a signal. “Support the Girls”, then, as the title implies, becomes about restoring the humanity of these women, though without turning sanctimonious, as writer/director Andrew Bujalski threads the needle between light and dark, droll and sincere.

In a sense, threading the needle is the job description of Double Whammies’ general manager Lisa Conroy (Regina Hall). As the movie opens, she is crying in her car even as she pulls herself together enough to ask a co-worker how she’s doing, a delicate strength embodied in Hall’s entire performance, her air remaining staunch even if she lets pockets of stress peek through in her eyes and inflections. Lisa’s life is non-stop. Never mind normal considerations like employee shifts and unruly customers, there is a burglar trapped in the air ducts who necessitates the cops who accidentally knock out the cable which agitates the clientele, while Lisa also devises a makeshift carwash fundraiser for one of her employees in need of a legal fund, which is the movie ingeniously repurposing an activity where management exploits labor. If the latter suggests what Lisa will do for her co-workers, so does the former since it eventually connects to a cook, in a scene where Lisa demonstrates empathy even as she gently fires him, and letting him finish shift because she is cognizant that his presence is necessary . This, in other words, is her family, which becomes apparent not just in the way she babysits the kid of an employee, Danyelle (Shayna McHale), who can’t get a sitter, but when the subject of her actual home life is eventually broached.

Every family, though, has an elder and that is the owner, Cubby (James Le gros), who shows up at the worst possible time and has a heated argument with Lisa about hiring practices, laying bare not just her true place in the hierarchy but everyone’s, all subject to the top dog’s impulses. Bujalksi sets this scene in Cubby’s car, concluding it with a moment of road rage gone wrong as his would-be confrontation with a driver cutting him off is less a violent release than a sudden, hysterical diffusion of the bomb that seems set to go off as Cubby gets punched once in the you-know-what, both his aforementioned impulses and his precious masculinity skewered. Bujalski shows us this moment, however, from inside the car so that we can’t even hear it, emblematic of the film’s overriding deadpan humor, glimpsed later in a confetti cannon putting an exclamation point on the film’s come to Jesus moment, revising a hackneyed marketing tool as a colorful kiss-off.

That epiphany, however, unexpectedly, incisively happens apart from Lisa. If the narrative seems to be shaping up as a Day in Lisa’s Life, she suddenly gets moved offstage as Danyelle steps into her management shoes, not a triumphant moment but a realization of everyone’s disposability in the world of unskilled labor. The movie culminates by conforming to and upending your expectations in a lengthy, funny, unsettling sequence allowing the women to maintain their dignity even as it acknowledges how nothing truly changes for them at all. Indeed, the denouement, spread across a couple scenes, is sort of a new beginning of old ways, a cruel contradiction, but one that Lisa meets with a defiance akin to the whole movie, standing on a rooftop, screaming at the freeway traffic below, a release even if all the pent-up rage let out only seems to dissolve into the white noise.

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