'Support the Girls' Highlights the Hearts of the Working Class

Lisa is in the parking lot crying, but wipes away her tears to ask after the wellbeing of someone else. That's what we first learn about Lisa: she's compassionate beyond the mandate of her job as general manager of Double Whammies, a Houston Hooters knock-off. Together with the young women who work for her, including the gladsome Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) and close confidante Danyelle (Shayna McHayle), Lisa navigates the indignities, hardships and alliances that define the American working class.

Set mostly over the course of a single day, Support the Girls portrays the minor crises and routines of Lisa's work day so naturally that the accumulation barely feels like a plot. Instead, Support the Girls effortlessly settles into the rhythms of Lisa's life, defined by her steadfastness and the lengths she'll go protect the young women who work for her, from booting a rowdy customer to sneaking a car wash fundraiser in the parking lot for an employee's post-car crash bills (echoing the perverse phenomena of crowdfunded emergency healthcare). Regina Hall so fully inhabits Lisa's life we hardly feel apart from her, tugged by the same frustrations, goodwill, minor satisfactions and disappointments.

Writer-director Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess) nails little realistic moments, like waiting on the phone with a cable company, but also allows for sparks of the holy anomalous, like Maci's surprise confetti cannon, or the tech demo that's simultaneously a glimpse at tranquility and a reminder of out-of-reach consumerist aspirations. Between them, Bujalski and Hall capture working life through Lisa's perseverance, good spirits and humor, which often proves inadequate against the fraying stress of her workday routine.

In Support the Girls, Lisa and her employees are squeezed between the rigidity of their workplace environment and the realities of human interaction. They are surrounded by rules, none of which speak to the actual nature of their work. Or, as Lisa says in response to Double Whammies number-one, unspoken rule, "You really want me to tell a bunch of 20-year-old girls 'No drama?'"

Danyelle (Shayna McHayle), Lisa (Regina Hall) and Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) in "Support the Girls." Magnolia Pictures

Following Lisa, Support the Girls demonstrates how often unrealistic work expectations mask the bulk of actual labor. Lisa isn't paid to guard the lives and emotions of her employee peers, and part of her job is navigating a business model designed to blame employees for overstepping the blurry line drawn between family restaurant atmosphere and overt titillation. But rules like "two minutes per table," tailored to maximize sales, prove useless to the day-to-day realities of women serving men in a job field tailored to objectify and belittle them. Instead, the real best practices emerge organically, like Maci's lesson in open-mouth laughs or Lisa's advice to new trainees to touch customers with an open palm, but never to squeeze.

But what makes Lisa so good at her job makes her less suited in the eyes of Double Whammies owner, Cubby (James Le Gros), whose trailer-hitched fishing boat tells of his dissatisfaction at having to do any work at all. When Lisa brings up the unwritten "Rainbow Guideline" against multiple black women working the same shift (one of several examples of how the workplace incubates racism and sexism while leaving workers no recourse), or otherwise obliges him to do anything on behalf of his employees, Cubby balks. Despite his belief he's above the drama, Cubby repeatedly demonstrates how much of his business sense comes down to fragility, requiring both total subservience and constant assurance that everyone loves working for him. You may know someone like Cubby.

Support the Girls is neither excruciatingly dramatic or hilarious, but it leaves a powerful impression with extraordinary charm. There's a moment in Support the Girls Lisa, Maci and Danyelle screaming from a rooftop—that'll remind some viewers of a scene from Garden State (maybe the most "you had to be there" generational movie ever made). But where the characters in Garden State are screaming into a vague "infinite abyss," a symbol of their awakening from ennui into adult life's turbulent emotions, the screams from the Double Whammies sisterhood emerge from their very real and immediate material conditions. The screams in Support the Girls express the indignity of modern work, where someone else gets to define so much of you. But they're also an assertion of self, made from a strip mall rooftop, by women who refuse to be anything but themselves.