They’re called “Breastaurants” for a reason.
Twin Peaks, Twisted Kilt and the easily imitated Hooters — with their all-female, legs and push-up bras wait staffs and leering, almost all male clientele — are pre-#MeToo, sexist and retrograde. But the “man cave” trend in franchised sports bars isn’t going away.
Especially in places like Texas. And they’re not just surviving because of customer demand, but because there’s an ever-willing parade of nubile young ladies willing to wear the tight, bare midriff tops and whatever leg-baring bottoms the “theme” demands, for the tips and whatever else they get out of all the ogling.
“Support the Girls” looks at this world from inside the man cave, a funny, occasionally biting comedy that will make any veteran of the drudgery of chain restaurant work wince at the flashbacks even if they recoil from the sexism.
Writer-director Andrew Bujalski (the personal trainer comedy “Results”) builds his “Waiting…”/”Coyote Ugly” mashup around Regina Hall, as the shaky but ever-supportive manager of such a pub, “Double Whammies,” in suburban Texas.
No experience, but need a job and can fill out the uniform (but not too much)? See Lisa. Child-care issues? She’ll talk another waitress into watching your kid. Drowning in debt and need a boost to start over? Let’s have a parking lot car wash fundraiser and not tell the boss.
Coping with the “drama” of her girls, the “performance” nature of the work (which allows companies to discriminate based on appearance), the racist informal policy that dictates that no more than one Black or Hispanic waitress can be on the same shift would be enough to make anybody cry in the car in the parking lot.
Lisa’s got her own problems, but often they take a back seat to her work “family,” especially over the one long day depicted in “Girls.” “Support” isn’t just a pun. She’s got to hire, via cattle call, promising prospects. Once they’ve started, she’s got to protect her girls from boorish customers and from themselves.
She has “zero tolerance” for crude remarks in what she insists is a “family place.” “If these guys wanted to go to a strip club, they know where they can find one.”
But she has to bird-dog the waitresses, who are old enough and pretty enough to have figured out what men want and how they can get big tips out of them by bending the rules, tugging at the uniform and flirting-over-the-limit.
Lisa might grimace when her best waitress, Maci (Haley Lu Richardson of “Edge of Seventeen”) trains newbies by drawling, “Notice how I open my mouth real wide when I laugh?”
She might be taken aback to discover a would-be burglar trapped in her duct work at the start of the day, and that the bum is pals with one of her cooks, who set this up. But the cook isn’t ratted out to the cops. She lets him finish his shift and is even promised a reference. “Compassion” is her middle name.
Over this long grind of a day, we follow Lisa through crises both professional (the burglar knocked their cable out) and personal. Her marriage is in trouble, her girls drive her crazy, her customers (ground-breaking gay comic Lea DeLaria plays a truck-driving “regular” who sticks up for the girls, for different reasons) piss her off and her boss, the owner, is as clueless as bosses in such movies almost always are.
James LeGros is Cubby, a micro-managing jerk of an owner who doesn’t know of or approve of a lot of what Lisa does, but that’s how these places function. Every “corporate” rule Cubby cooks up (it’s a one-off joint he’d like to franchise, like the “Man Cave” chain that’s their competition) is just something else Lisa and her girls have to work around.
“You wanna fire me? There’s paperwork to fill out and I can show you how!”
Hall (“Girls Trip”) makes an earthy anchor for Bujalski’s scruffy, misshapen movie, keeping it on track while she’s on the screen. She lets us read between Lisa’s every line to her charges. “I totally trust your judgment” means “You need to judge again.” When he loses her for a chunk of the third act, “Support the Girls” goes off the rails.
Shayna McHayle and Richardson are the stand-outs from the wait staff, LeGros is well-cast as the rather-be-fishing boor always throwing his “I’m your employer” authority around.
The milieu is rich and colorful and working-class savvy, surprising considering Bujalski’s Harvard pedigree. The movie feels lived in, greasy and real. He just needed more funny lines and help figuring out the most promising thread among the many he introduces to pursue.
A young boy being raised by a working waitress mom in a climate where any biker, soldier, cop or welder can harass mom is one long teachable moment.
“You know his mama didn’t raise him right” isn’t just a put-down of somebody Lisa has to kick out of the joint. It’s the plot-line that could have given “Support the Girls” sharper focus that might have made it consequential.
MPAA Rating: R for language including sexual references, and brief nudity
Cast: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, Dylan Gelula, Zoe Graham, James LeGross
Credits: Written and directed by Andrew Bujalski . A Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:30