Lisa, the general manager of a Texas sports bar called Double Whammies, spends a lot of time putting out fires. The would-be thief she discovers at the start of her shift is just the beginning of her epically challenging yet ordinary day in Andrew Bujalski‚Äôs stealth charmer ‚ÄúSupport the Girls.‚ÄĚ There are also rats, a meanspirited boss, a larcenous employee and of course the customers, who guzzle and chow down while ogling the skimpily dressed waitresses or the blaring TVs. Welcome to America!
Lisa (Regina Hall) is the hub of this habitually, at times amusingly unsteady spinning wheel. In most movies, characters like her function as backdrop, and so do settings like Double Whammies ‚ÄĒ a neighborhood version of a place like Hooters. You know what I mean, those generically tawdry spots off the highway in which male characters convene while decoratively underdressed women smile and serve or dance and writhe. Mr. Bujalski, by contrast, likes to foreground people and places that other moviemakers ignore or use as atmosphere. He sees these women, and invites you to see them, too.
Set mainly over the course of one day, the movie follows Lisa, a relentlessly positive soul who‚Äôs always moving forward. She‚Äôs first heard and seen sniffling in an unreliable car that suggests the tears and obstacles to come. But she soon gets in gear, opening the bar alongside Maci (Haley Lu Richardson), an infectiously cheerful young woman with a blazing smile and an estimably overflowing push-up bra. With another veteran waitress, Danyelle (Shayna McHayle), Maci tends to hover near Lisa, and together they eagerly serve as her seconds in command, sounding boards, cheer squad and surrogate family.
Episodic and pleasantly unhurried, the movie follows the ebb and flow of a regular workday while skipping the tedium. Things happen, mostly without fuss. The cops discreetly extract the would-be thief, and the rats remain out of sight; a customer calls a waitress fat, and Lisa shows him the door. She‚Äôs trying to clean up another mess ‚ÄĒ earlier, another waitress purposely plowed into her boyfriend with a car ‚ÄĒ and it‚Äôs evident that Lisa has her own issues. When she briefly meets her sad-sack husband, Cameron (Lawrence Varnado), to look at an apartment, it turns out to be for him alone.
‚ÄúSupport the Girls‚ÄĚ (the title refers to a carwash fund-raiser for the road-raging waitress) moves nice and easy for so long that it begins to feel drifty, unmoored. It‚Äôs not. Mr. Bujalski, who wrote as well as directed, doesn‚Äôt lean on shocks and big moments to spark tension or spur the narrative. A fine-grain realist, he creates modest, layered worlds and identifiably true characters, filling them in with details borrowed from life rather than the multiplex: a plastic milk crate used as a planter, the pleather-esque recliners in a stereo showroom, a heart-heavy woman putting heart-shaped stickers on walls.
As the details gather, thickening the story, what seemed like drift is revealed as textured realism. Mr. Bujalski‚Äôs touch is so light that it can be easy to miss what he‚Äôs doing. He throws just enough at you ‚ÄĒ seemingly insignificant particulars like the white socks and sandals worn by Lisa‚Äôs boss, Cubby, played by a game James Le Gros ‚ÄĒ that you might underestimate his intentions. But the socks are ridiculous, and so, too, is the bullying man wearing them. Mr. Bujalski may not be waving social-issue flags, but this movie is, among other things, also about female friendship as a bulwark against alienated labor.
Race seeps into the story, casually, bluntly, unsurprisingly. It spikes some of Lisa and Cubby‚Äôs testiest exchanges and crops up in a few jagged-edged conversations about one of the bar‚Äôs unofficial policies. Although it doesn‚Äôt register as such, Ms. Hall‚Äôs casting itself feels like a statement, even in the insistently well-intentioned, mostly white realm of American indie cinema. Smartly, Mr. Bujalski doesn‚Äôt make race into a problem that Lisa needs to solve. Race is just there, as elemental as air and as palpable as Lisa‚Äôs resolute pragmatism, which suggests a world of necessary, presumably painful compromises.
Ms. Hall, who appears in almost every scene, is the movie‚Äôs animating force. In contrast to Ms. Richardson and Ms. McHayle, who deliver delightful, contrapuntal comic performances, Ms. Hall has to play it fairly straight. Lisa whirls through her day (when she pauses, her body sinks and you feel her fatigue), often with a smile that seems on the verge of breaking. You can see a lifetime in that smile. In moments, as it trembles and almost disappears, and as Ms. Hall‚Äôs eyes gently widen and her face briefly freezes, you clearly see both the mask and the woman who wears it. You also see what it takes to be a woman in this man‚Äôs world ‚ÄĒ the spirit, grit, pain and, of course, laughter.
Support the Girls
Rated R for gently raunchy good humor and adult language. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.