Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls is undoubtedly a feminist film, despite being set in a Hooters-esque sports bar where the staff flirt for tips in low-cut tops. Its greatness lies in how it pits its cast of ordinary women – trying to live their lives with self-respect – against a capitalist system that makes them compromise their ideals to survive.
The staff at the Double Whammies bar are all strong, confident women, but it’s a reality of the capitalist society in which they live that they have to sexualise themselves to make a living. They’re squeezed into revealing outfits and encouraged to flirt with the clientele to make them feel loved and keep them coming back. The fine line between casual flirting and giving the men false hope is drawn with precision, as shown by a few powerful moments. One sees an aggressive diner assume that because the girls are answering his beck and call he’s allowed to treat them like shit, and another sees an elderly regular catch feelings for Maci (Haley Lu Richardson).
Regina Hall is incredible as Lisa, the manager of the Double Whammies bar, who is as much of a sister and mother to the other girls as she is a boss. She bends the strict corporate rules of the bar as much as possible to let the other women live their lives, while also doing everything she can to keep them from using their bodies as commodities.
An overly keen newbie, Jennelle (Dylan Gelula), gets a bit too provocative during a charity car wash and, in the biggest plot twist of this loose story, it turns out Maci is actually ‘dating’ the elderly (and rich) professor. And who can blame them for crossing the line? What’s really the difference between parading around a restaurant in scanty clothing and rolling around on a soapy car bonnet? Or the difference between getting tips for being kind and flirty and becoming a kept woman for being even kinder and flirtier? When you make money for one, is it so much worse to make even more money for going a little further? At least this way the girls are independent rather than in thrall to a male owner who doesn’t care about their well-being.
Let’s be honest: neither option is great. But it’s the reality of the corporate world they live in, and a harsh, realistic reminder that no matter how far feminism has come, it will always be forcibly compromised by a capitalist system that profits from women’s bodies.
Support the Girls ends with Lisa interviewing at a new rival called Man Cave, who offer the same service but with none of the care or community. She may have escaped one degrading job, but her only alternative is the same thing dressed up in more corporate lingo.
Lisa, Maci and Danyelle (Shayna McHayle) leave their interviews, and go up to the rooftop. They shout out encouragement to a distressed young woman down by the road that “we love you! Stay strong!” Then they stare out at the world they’ll soon have to sink back into, and scream.