The uniquely American phenomenon of Hooters-style sports bars provides the subject matter for Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls. More Cassavettes than Coyote Ugly, the film rarely concerns itself too deeply with the politics of such establishments, preferring instead to take a softer, human look at the lives of its employees.
The sexual mores of Europeans versus North Americans can provide plenty of debate for those who enjoy the occasional piece of armchair social science, but one thing’s for certain: the hideously titled business model of the “breastaurant” has never quite caught on this side of the Atlantic. Writer and director Bujalski clearly has mixed feelings about these places – where feminist politics are even more frowned upon than warm beer – but works hard in the screenplay to avoid any tone of judgement.
Joining Lisa (Regina Hall) on one of the worst days of her working life, the story is told across one single day at ‘Double Whammies’ sports bar and restaurant. There’s a minimum ‘customer attention’ time mandated for all the waitresses and a list of golden rules to help maximise tips without crossing any lines. A staff shortage means some new hires have to be trained on the job by Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) and Danyelle (Shayna McHayle), whilst Lisa attends to everyone else’s problems with the insistence of someone who needs to be needed. Bending over backwards to help her staff through various personal problems, she encounters the anger of restaurant owner Cubby (James LeGros), ultimately leaving her with a tough decision on what steps to take for the future.
The cast, as an ensemble, work together well and Bujalski coaxes strong performances from the acting talent at his disposal. Regina Hall, in particular, is fantastic and Bujalski plays to his strengths as a director in smaller scenes between two characters where those performances can really shine. The biggest problem the film has, however, is its matter-of-factness. For all its heart and warmth, the desire to offer as many contrasting viewpoints as possible leads to a sense that the biggest elephant in the room isn’t really being dealt with. Support the Girls, ultimately, is a film about an industry built on sexism, that prefers not to dwell too long on the question of sexism itself.