by Paul KD
Support The Girls, the 2018 film by Andrew Bujalski, is the most realistic look at service work and revolt in recent years. The sheer indignity of most work has long been a focus of the independent filmmaker Andrew Bujalski’s career, since his beginnings with 2002’s Funny Ha Ha. While he has exclusively worked in fiction, Bujalski was trained in Harvard’s documentary program and has always shown an eye for the mundane. His protagonists’ lives usually revolve around their work, or lack of it, from Marnie’s employment at a temp agency in Funny Ha Ha to Kat’s personal trainer gig in 2015’s Results. These jobs are always degrading to various degrees, and seem to only lead to the characters becoming further lost in their lives.
Support The Girls revolves around the employees of Double Whammies, a knock-off Hooters in a desolate section of freeway somewhere in suburban Austin. Its main character, Lisa, played by Regina Hall, is the manager of the restaurant as well as the only one able to hold it together. The rules of the restaurant are explained as Lisa interviews new staff. While she takes pain to describe it as a normal, “mainstream” work environment, we can see problems arise. The chef gave the code to the safe to his cousin, who has gotten stuck in the ceiling. The restaurant is also threatened by the arrival of the chain Mancave, and the owner has barely concealed anger issues. As the day goes on, Lisa attempts to put out the several fires that arrive, before they inevitably snowball into catastrophe.
Beyond the day-to-day issues that arise, we can see that there are deeper problems at Double Whammies. The owner enforces a “Rainbow Policy” that bans more than one Black waitress on the floor at once. The customers include creeps who take the opportunity to ogle and cat-call, as well as lots of off-duty cops, which Lisa is proud to advertise. Once Lisa announces her departure, the rest of the staff decide that they have had enough and start causing mayhem. Danyelle knocks out the cable and proceeds to get the off-duty cop mad enough to force everyone out.
When the movie ends, we see that the workers are mostly in the same position that they were at before. The whole crew finds themselves applying for jobs at the new Mancave position, which entails exactly the same work as Double Whammies, just with a bigger legal department, as the interviewer explains. One of our slogans in the Restaurant Organizing Project is that “your next job will suck, too,” and that is clearly the case here. This is a pretty different ending than most films about labor. There are no big, violent strikes or picket lines, and no one gets a Hollywood ending. Instead, the movie ends with the Double Whammies crew drinking on the roof of the Mancave site, before all of them let out a primal scream to release all of their frustrations at once.
Is this scream the beginnings of a collective solidarity? Or is it just the last gasp of frustration before the workers go back to their jobs? The film ends here, but in real life the struggle continues. This spring, every time I saw a report of staff walking out of a short-staffed restaurant and leaving signs mocking the boss, I thought of Support the Girls. I hope those workers got to scream, too.