Labor (Day) of Love

Support your local service industry serf with "Support The Girls"

Labor (Day) of Love

What are the best movies about work? An appropriate question for Labor Day (and shame on me for writing this today and shame on you for reading it). “Norma Rae” (1979, unavailable on VOD) is the acknowledged union classic and Paul Schrader’s “Blue Collar” (1978, for rent on most platforms) is its darker, less acknowledged cousin. Barbara Kopple’s “Harlan County, U.S.A.” (1976, HBO Max and the Criterion Channel) is the documentary correlative. “9 To 5” (1980, for rent on most platforms) has risen in stock lately, along with beloved co-star Dolly Parton’s re-emergence as Queen Of Us All. On the subject of immigrant workers and the guy who bicycles through a blizzard to bring you your burrito, I don’t know that there’s a finer film than 2018’s “En El Septima Dia” (on Apple TV, Google Play, MUBI, and YouTube) about a man juggling his delivery job with his status as the key player of his Brooklyn soccer team. On the subject of the gig driver economy, the same goes for Ken Loach’s wrenching 2019 drama “Sorry We Missed You” (on Amazon – ironic, that – Apple TV, Criterion Channel, Google Play, and Kanopy). And Chaplin’s “Modern Times” (1936, HBO Max, Criterion Channel, Kanopy) set the template for modern assembly-line alienation – slapstick as brutal critique of capitalism.

But for the movie that best sums up the spirit of the day – exhaustion, camaraderie, and a rage toward the system that’s as necessary as it may be impotent – I’ll put my chips on “Support The Girls” (2018, streaming on Hulu and Kanopy; for rent on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube, and others). It’s a comedy (until it’s not) about the waitresses at a Hooters-style “breastaurant” over the course of one long, grinding, eventful day, with the focus on the manager, Lisa (Regina Hall). Which is in itself unusual, since mid-level employees don’t usually get sympathy from the movies. But Andrew Bujalski’s movie understands that Lisa’s in a no-win position by default – caught between the (mostly) reasonable needs of the women who report to her while dealing with abusive boyfriends and single motherhood and the (generally) unreasonable demands of the men who pay her salary and sit at the tables. And that she gets up and deals with that double bind every damn day.

From left: Dylan Gelula, Shayna McHale, Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, and AJ Michalka in “Support The Girls”

“Support The Girls” paints a farcical but casually devastating picture of the gender stereotypes baked into our culture – the way America runs not on Dunkins but on sexism -- and it’s one of the very few films I know of to spread its concerns across all colors and ethnicities of the working class. Haley Lu Richardson shines as a sunny sort who’s not as dumb as she looks, and Dylan Gelula is very funny as a new waitress who’d probably rather be a stripper, but the movie belongs to Shayna McHayle – a.k.a. the rapper Junglepussy – as the weariest and wisest of the Double Whammies “girls.” And to Regina Hall, of course. The New York Film Critics Circle named her best actress for “Support The Girls”; she deserved an Oscar nomination. If you followed me in the Globe, I praised this movie a lot in 2018, and maybe you saw it then. If you didn’t, you should see it now.

O.K., coffee break’s over, back on your heads.1

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