Austin-based, Harvard-educated writer-director Andrew Bujalski has made films about women before. In 2002's Funny Ha Ha, his first feature, a temp worker navigates the vagaries of post-college life, and in 2009's Beeswax, twin sisters grapple with a tangle of personal and professional concerns. So, Support the Girls, which centers on waitresses at a highway-side sports bar somewhere in Texas, doesn't come as a complete surprise. Yet somehow, it still does.
For one thing, the women who work at the fictional Double Whammies, a Hooters-like establishment, offer a contrast to the unadorned women of previous Bujalski pictures. Aside from their frosted makeup and form-fitting outfits, however, they're working stiffs like any others. If they have to tolerate a little ogling to pay the bills, so be it, but blatant disrespect isn't part of the deal. When their manager, Lisa (Regina Hall, acing her most substantial role to date), catches a customer crossing the line, she bounces his biker ass.
In depicting the way they look after each other, Bujalski rarely deals with sexism as directly as some people might prefer, but he hardly ignores it either. Instead, he's found a sly way to make his most political film, since he weaves current issues, like racial equity and illegal immigration, into the narrative without sapping the energy from the workplace comedy on the surface. If the system lets down working Americans at every turn, this sisterhood, including the effervescent Maci (Columbus's Haley Lu Richardson) and droll Danyelle (rapper Shayna "Junglepussy" McHayle), helps each other to look after their kids, repel abusers, and strive for independence.
In the real world, Hooters is on life support, and analysts blame their usual scapegoat: millennials. In Bujalskiworld, a chain called Mancave (represented by Brooklyn Decker and her blinding white teeth) threatens the future of Double Whammies. Fortunately, the sisterhood turns out to be stronger than any sports bar, and Andrew Bujalski could give the makers of Netflix's GLOW a run for the money when it comes to finding the dignity in a female-dominated scenario that a lesser filmmaker might have treated with derision.