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“Support the Girls”: Regina Hall gets by with a little help from her girls

"Regina Hall in 'Support the Girls,' a Magnolia Pictures release.

Support the Girls” is a fun, earnest comedy that takes an honest look at a day-in-the-life of the staff of a small-time Texas “breastaurant” and its long-suffering general manager Lisa, played with attention-grabbing sincerity by Regina Hall (“Girls Trip,” the “Scary Movie” series). Over the course of one stressful day, Lisa tries to span the gap between the waitresses she has vowed to take care of and the demands of an unsympathetic business; all while dealing with her own personal crises.

To call Hall the heart and soul of this movie would discount the honest, distinct performances delivered by the rest of the cast, but “Support the Girls” is unarguably Hall’s film. It is her stress and compassion that connects the cast of characters as she deals with the problems piling up at Double Whammies, the sports bar where she is manager and de facto boss.

Double Whammies is an unspectacular sports bar and grill (think Hooters) where locals and passers-by traveling the I-10 interstate stop at for grub, TVs and to ogle the waitresses. It attempts to operate as a “mainstream” family establishment while unsuccessfully ignoring the fact that its main gimmick is sexy girls (“be sexy” is part of Whammies Girls Rule Number Two).

A hotness rating system is even suggested by a male manager as a sort of quality control for the waitresses. It’s meant to avoid hurt feelings, he insists.

Double Whammies, and its corporate competitor, Man Cave, are all about “boobs, brews and big screens,” as Lisa so eloquently puts it. A verifiable fantasy for red-blooded American men.

For the Whammies girls, it’s a job with the same drudgeries that unite all food service workers, except they have to do it in booty shorts and shirts that barely meet the requirements of being crop tops.

As the tongue-in-cheek title suggests, for the waitresses at Double Whammies their sexualization can be a double-edged sword. Being a Whammies girl gets the waitresses perks (e.g. a free sound system, legal advice) as long as they play into the fantasy.

Writer/Director Andrew Bujalski, one of the pioneers of a subgenre of film called Mumblecore -- though the filmmakers known for the “movement” resent, or at least reject, the label -- creates films known for their naturalistic dialogue and characters. He seemed to have plucked the setting for “Support the Girls” right off the side of a Texas highway.

Lisa is every friendly manager who has gone out of her way to help you, making you wonder what kind of people she is used to dealing with. She would do anything for the Whammies girls, including organizing a not-so-legal car wash to raise funds for one of the waitresses’ legal defense.

The characters and the bar all feel like entities that exist in the real world. When the absentee owner (James Le Gros) pulls up in a truck hauling an aluminum runabout boat, you get a sense of the type of guy he is. The tables in the Whammies locker room are covered in hair brushes and cosmetics, making “Support the Girls” feel that much more “lived-in.”

The movie benefits from this naturalistic approach to storytelling. It may focus on one particularly stressful day, but the plot never goes off the rails into increasingly absurd hijinks (a la “The Hangover”). This is just the day where it all boiled over. What could go wrong, does go wrong.

A thwarted thief is discovered trapped in the ceiling vents. His removal knocks out the cable, gets one of the cooks fired and summons the owner for a confrontation that leaves Lisa stranded on the side of the road.

Bujalski smartly starts out the film with Lisa and Maci, one of Double Whammies most popular waitresses (played with endearing enthusiasm by Haley Lu Richardson), interviewing a crop of new prospects. Maci shows the new hires how to laugh at her male customers rude jokes and upsale the beer. The newbies, along with the audience, naturally get a sense of what kind of place Double Whammies is before the ball gets rolling.

Lisa’s other lieutenant, Whammies waitress Danyelle (Shayna McHayle), offers a nice counterbalance to Lisa’s pragmatic optimism and Maci’s cheeriness. She is loyal to Lisa, but she does not have to like what she does. “Support the Girls” is the debut film for McHayle, a Brooklyn rapper who goes by Junglepussy on stage. Danyelle’s unenthusiasm for her job is relatable, but her final rebellion is incredibly satisfying.

With her faith in her work tested and her personal life spiraling, the audience is left to wonder if Lisa has found her breaking point. But no. Lisa is the type of woman who thinks that a bustling highway sounds like the ocean. She can’t be so easily brought down. She just needs a little support from her girls.

“Support the Girls” operates in space where the mundane and absurd overlap. The film’s comedy is apparent only from the audience’s outside perspective. For Lisa and the girls, this is their life. Hall and the whole supporting cast deliver genuine performances that make “Support the Girls” into more that just a dig at the food service industry. The film weaves Americans’ relationships with gender, race and sexuality organically into these characters’ lives. They find that once you’ve tried crying, the only thing left to do is laugh or scream.

Grade: A

“Support the Girls” opens nationwide on August 24


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