Sad dudes is my business.
To mention an establishment like Hooters is to receive a broad spectrum of opinions. There are those who judge anyone that’s ever stepped foot in one for the way it demeans and objectifies women, those who see it as an effective means towards giving young women a living wage via tips, and of course the select few who love the food. Whether you believe one critique truer than the others is your prerogative, but I’d hope everyone could agree that the safety and security of these women pulling double duty as waitress and entertainment is of paramount importance. This is why a good manager is crucial to these businesses’ success. While owners see money and customers see breasts, the manager is left protecting his/her employees’ humanity.
You see many men talking about wives, daughters, and mothers in today’s climate insofar as how having one or all opened their eyes to notions of respect for women that they should have possessed as a byproduct of basic decency. It’s no surprise then that American society would still be littered with just these types of polarizing franchises that bank on the still unreformed masses of unbridled masculinity to be attracted to an escape in the form of beer, boobs, and boxing from the domestic lives their pigheaded father figures taught them to be a sign of emasculation. A film made about this topic from a male perspective would therefore feasibly show how these scantily clad women provide their clientele harmlessly consensual fun, ignorant to what constitutes “harmless.”
This is but one of the reasons why Andrew Bujalski‘s Support the Girls is such a breath of refreshing air. Here’s an artist with a Y-chromosome who comes at the topic from a place of empathy rather than ownership. He flips the script to tell this story of a checkered restaurant that intentionally leans into its employees’ sexuality from their oft-usurped perspective. He draws those who see the utility of their job with an understanding of its potential for volatility being triggered by no more than a look as well as those who aren’t yet able to comprehend how precarious things really are. And he places a complex figure in the middle with the compassion and life experience to help both factions prevail during good times and bad.
Lisa (Regina Hall) could have proven a stereotypically maternal boss very easily. She could have strictly been a protector going toe-to-toe with an owner (James Le Gros‘ Cubby) unbothered by the underlying intricacies presented by his business model. She could have been a lecturer who chastises her waitresses and provides them life lessons without ever acknowledging what their ill-advised actions can achieve for them on a personal level. This character could have gone in many different directions and yet none would have shown as much authenticity, strength, or resonant fallibility as the version Bujalski wrote and Hall performed. Lisa isn’t some sage voice with all the answers. She’s just another working-class citizen trying to find balance who’s as prone to crying, laughing, and screaming as the rest.
The film starts with her doing the former in the confines of her car before Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) arrives to give her a hug and help set-up an interview session with five new girls looking for jobs. We’ll soon discover what caused this bout of emotion—a combination of personal relationship woe and rage directed at toxic male chauvinism and abuse unleashed on an employee she’d do anything for—but for now it gets pushed to the background so Lisa can put out the infinite number of fires her position as general manager creates. There’s a would-be thief stuck in the restaurant’s duct system, a severed cable line compromising a planned fight night, and the charitable desire to raise money for a woman in need.
We watch as Lisa enforces rules (and ignores others) written for liability purposes in a way that ensures they work to create a safe environment for employees instead. She may cajole Danyelle (Shayna McHayle) into flirting her way towards a free sound system rental, but doing so never compromises integrity or motivations. It’s a tit-for-tat mentality wherein long-time waitresses like Maci and Danyelle will go above and beyond for their boss because they’ve seen her do the same for them. Lisa treats her job as one that always values people above the bottom-line. It’s a mentality that ensures customers like Bobo (Lea DeLaria) and Officer Dominquez (Luis Olmeda) seek to protect this establishment’s adoptive community themselves. It’s a philosophy we quickly realize too few people share.
Because for every instance of heroism Lisa performs (anyone who’s ever worked food knows a boss craning her neck to ensure a problematic customer actually leaves the premises rather than simply following a script and pretending canned de-escalation techniques work is exactly that), someone repays her by ruining her day. The film doesn’t leave her completely blameless either, though. Lisa acknowledges her role in failed relationships due to being “married to work” and recognizes that phrase itself proves how her connection to what’s ultimately revealed as a thankless job is unhealthy. She lets her employer commit wage theft by asking too much of her and constantly believes she cannot quit because of all those who rely on what she brings to the job that no one else will.
But that’s not her responsibility. These aren’t her daughters and she cannot pretend to know their needs. The simple fact she tries, though, is what makes her so special. Not everyone will have the humility to see it’s full breadth (a thread concerning Jana Kramer‘s Shaina is heartbreaking to watch), but those who do go out of their way to prove it. Things she does for her cook Arturo (Steve Zapata) or waitress Krista (AJ Michalka) come with some welcome humor due to situational absurdity, but they are life-saving maneuvers nonetheless that exemplify how much Lisa cares by refusing to compromise her own identity. The respect and loyalty bestowed upon her is a testament to who she is—not the job. Jobs are interchangeable. Good bosses are rare.
And she’s not perfect. She makes mistakes and endures abuse like everyone must to stay sane and remain standing. It might be extremely satisfying to witness the ineptitude of Cubby’s other manager (Jonny Mars‘ Mark) once her shift is done since chaos in her absence is the surest way to justify her excellence, but nothing trumps watching others fill that void because of what she taught them simply by leading by example. In the end nobody is necessarily better off than they started, but those who deserve to be do possess the clarity to soldier on and continue striving. These are flawed characters doing the best they can with what they have. And as long as they refuse a narrow black or white focus, happiness will remain possible.
 Regina Hall in SUPPORT THE GIRLS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
 Shayna McHayle, Haley Lu Richardson and John Elvis in SUPPORT THE GIRLS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
 John Elvis and AJ Michalka in SUPPORT THE GIRLS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.