Saturday, August 25, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.122: Support the Girls

How long has construction been going on in the general area of Landmark's Kendall Square Cinema? Long enough that it has taken on a life of its own, expanding to the point where it has engulfed the main entrance, forcing them to cut a new one into the side of the building:

Despite the fact that you've got to walk through the parking garage to get there, I kind of like it. The widescreen layout puts you in a cinematic frame of mind before entering, there is room for movie posters outside the doors, and it sort of corrects some of the other parts of the place that seem jury-rigged, like how the kiosks are on the far end of the lobby, previously requiring you to squeeze past the long lines that you're trying to bypass. With more people bypassing that part of the theater now - especially here, in a spot where MoviePass still works - it makes sense to build them in such a way that it's possible to actually relieve congestion by doing so.

I was a bit surprise to wind up in screen #9 - sure, I tend to wind up there a lot, but I was kind of under the impression that Support the Girls was not quite so much a niche release - folks know Regina Hall, after all, and maybe there are still some folks in Boston that consider director Andrew Bujalski our guy rather than someone who buggered off to the manufactured cool of Austin. I wasn't the only person thinking that way; the person at the end of my row was shocked that there was such a small crowd for opening night. I wonder how much of the local audience for this caught it back when it played IFFBoston in April and kind of lost track of it by the time it actually reached theaters.

Heck, I wasn't exactly truly enthused about seeing it - Bujalski and others dug themselves a hole with me when they were doing mumblecore, and I've yet to warm to his stuff - but Hall was a draw and Haley Lu Richardson's name raised an eyebrow, too. She was, if you'll recall, pretty fantastic in last year's Columbus, and her role here is almost the exact opposite of that one. It looks like she's got some actual leading roles coming out next year, and I'm really curious to see how well she rises to that challenge.

Support the Girls

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 August 2018 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

It feels a bit like the movies as a whole skipped a step with Support the Girls, that the natural order of things would be to have a zany comedy or three about behind-the-scenes hijinks at this sort of Hooters-knockoff "breastaurant" before the one that actually takes them kind of seriously comes out. Taking this route is probably more honest, and it certainly gives the cast some chances to do good work, even if it only occasionally has the movie hitting the comic heights that filmmaker Andrew Bujalski initially seems to be going for.

The bar & grill at the center of the film is a place called "Double Whammies", and general manager Lisa (Regina Hall) is the one who keeps it going on a day-to-day basis. Today that means interviewing a new group of young, busty girls; trying to raise money for an employee who drove her car into a boyfriend who was asking for it; calling the cops because a burglar apparently got stuck in the vent overnight; and trying to get the cable fixed because a sports bar without functioning TVs isn't much of a draw. For all of this, she inspires tremendous loyalty from the employees, especially the upbeat Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) and the more cynical Danyelle (Shayna McHayle), but is often seen by restaurant owner Cubby (James Le Gros) as something of a nuisance - and with national chain "Mancave" moving in nearby, he's thinking that it may no longer be worth indulging her insubordination and generosity.

Another manager shows up at the end of the day to take the night shift, and although it's not as if Bujalski has held back from showing that Whammies is kind of inherently tacky - compare the kitchen scenes to other restaurant-set movies, for instance, or note the lack of bustle and energy in the front - it's clear that things change as soon as things aren't running through Lisa. What's impressive about this is that it seems to be some sort of alchemy at times; Lisa is not presented as a genius, or unflappable, or even necessarily the nicest person in the film (it is hard to out-nice Maci). How much of that comes from Bujalski's script and how much comes from Regina Hall is impossible to untangle after the fact, but it's fantastic to watch Hall perform - it's not just that Lisa has a backbone despite being sweet and kind, with the requisite understated Texas twang, but that she seems to actively dislike not being nice. It hurts her to give up on people or engage in any sort of deception even when it's something to which everybody involved has tacitly agreed. Hall gives a frequently funny performance, often by playing a scene where she could look like a fool with confidence, but it's through how Lisa reacts to things - whether Hall shows her as befuddled, amused, or saddened - that the audience gets a feel for how funny something should be, and allows itself to react accordingly.

Full review at EFC.

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