If your day begins with you crying in your car, in the car park at work, maybe the best thing to do is turn around and head home, and call in sick. Sadly that isn’t an option for Lisa, manager of a highway adjacent sports bar called Double Whammies.
Fighting to get through the day to the end of her shift, Lisa faces mouthy customers, over-eager new recruits and a heartless, permanently infuriated boss. Adding mumblecore reality to a Clerks-style set-up, director Andrew Bujalski wrangles laughs and even despairing screams in his latest feature.
Regina Hall delivers a powerhouse performance as Lisa, always teetering on the edge of a downward spiral. Lisa puts her girls ahead of everything else at the job, organising baby sitting, and holding car washes behind the owner’s back to raise money.
Her fatal flaw is her kindness, which Hall plays beautifully, tragically rising above her own struggles with a false air of unwavering strength. The events cluttering Lisa’s day are not quite predictable, but never outlandish – never beyond the realm of believability. That is Bujaliski’s MO: the camerawork is mostly still and non-adventurous, showing the world of these girls exactly how it is.
Though most of the narrative is viewed through Lisa’s eyes, Bujalski sets up a wonderful trio of perspectives in this localised hell. Contrasting Lisa’s pragmatism, Shayna McHayle’s outspoken Danyelle refuses to put up with what is thrown at the girls – the catalyst for meaningful change in their lives, whether for good or bad.
Maci, played by the permanently switched on Haley Lu Richardson, is an undying fire of optimistic energy, yet to be broken by the consistent torment of working life. Behind each of the girls, there is a sense of hopelessness, but a persistent drive to keep that hidden, not to let it take over their lives.
The problem with Bujalski’s film is that nothing ever hits hard enough. The bite of situation doesn’t leave a mark, perhaps because Bujalski doesn’t know what point he is trying to make. It may be enjoyable, and at times a bit of a struggle, to spend a day with these characters, but that doesn’t warrant a lasting meaning.
Even when the time comes for the girls to seek a little retribution, there is an anticlimactic sense of reservation. This might be a result of the lack of real stakes in the film: the girls are in need, certainly, but never desperate; their lives sad without approaching devastation. The reality of the film in this case inhibits fountains of emotion. Bujalski doesn’t quite find an interesting angle through which to portray a familiar, relatable story.
Where The Florida Project succeeded in its lens of youthful innocence, Support the Girls falls flat, hampered by Lisa’s stubborn helplessness. It is difficult to fully empathise with a character whose main obstacle is their own compassion – especially when it is so clearly stalling her life. Brilliantly committed performances from Hall, McHayle and Richardson don’t quite cover the fact that some overwhelming sympathetic access point is missing from Bujalski’s film
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