Over the past sixteen years, Austin-based director Andrew Bujalski has made six feature films, each landing far outside Hollywood’s mainstream, but resonating with audiences nonetheless. Early films Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation, and Beeswax tackled the post-college fumble; mid-period Computer Chess garnered Sundance’s 2013 Alfred Sloan Feature Film Prize for a comedy about 1980s computer programmers. On August 24, Magnolia Pictures is rolling out the 41-year-old’s latest film, Support the Girls, a comedy about a protective manager trying to maintain humanity in a fictional Texas breastaurant called Double Whammies.
“Maybe fifteen or twenty years ago there was this explosion of these knockoff chains that took the Hooters idea and tried to modernize it,” Bujalski says. “I just found them to be fascinating and strange and incredibly American places. So I conceived of the story that’s about a general manager there who has a kind of willed optimism about the place and her employees and customers, and she’s really come to love it. But over the course of a long difficult day her optimism is battered. And that’s the movie.”
It’s a shift for the filmmaker in a number of ways: Support the Girls features a primarily female cast, the main character is a middle aged African-American woman, and it explores a world that is at once familiar and uncharted. We talked to Bujalski about why he wanted to tackle the outré world of breastaurants.
Texas Monthly: Why did you want to make this film? What struck you about this topic?
Andrew Bujalski: Support the Girls wrestles with what these highway restaurants—which that are so ubiquitous in Texas and this part of the country—and what they mean. It’s not something that the average American gives a whole lot of thought to. You’re either a fan of the concept of “I’m going to enjoy a hamburger that is brought to me by a lady with cleavage,” or you aren’t.
But there is more to unpack when you get closer to it. These types of restaurants are different than the “conventional” exploitation business to me, very dissimilar from a strip club. A strip club is selling a particular fantasy about transgression. When a man walks into a strip club he’s supposed to feel like a bad ass who’s doing something cool. And when you walk into a Hooters or any of these other chains it’s much more about comfort. It’s a lot like any other TGI Friday’s or Applebee’s, but it just happens to involve small tight shirts. I think it’s more about feeling normal.
Your view of these restaurants might be that any red-blooded American man should be able to walk in there and and enjoy himself. And it’s not just men. All sorts of people enjoy them. They are family places, people bring grandma. But from another perspective, you might say, “Well, this is gross.” I’m not proposing any particular viewpoint or saying that one is right. I was just fascinated that something could look so different to people who live next door to each other.
TM: But the perspective of Support the Girls is actually from the women, not somebody coming to eat at this place.
AB: Yeah, for sure. But again, they bring different perspectives. You’re not going to find a lot of women working at these places who think they’re reprehensible establishments. Usually if you’re there it’s because you come from that culture to begin with and it all makes perfect sense to you. Or you might have a more businesslike view of it, that you can treat it as a job, something that you can turn on and off. Those two experiences were what I heard in the course of my research. I’m a vegetarian, so there’s not much there I can eat at those types of restaurants, but going into these places and ordering mozzarella sticks and a beer and talking to these women, that was the range I got: either “This is a gig” or “What else would I be doing?”
TM: Can you talk a little bit just about the casting?
AB: Regina Hall plays Lisa, the lead character. Regina is great. I’m sure a lot of people have seen her in Girls Trip or number of other movies—she works a lot. People will be seeing her more and more. But as far as writing for an African-American lead, the movie is not specifically about race. I wanted the character to be somebody who was in that world but not of it. And again not that that’s racially defined per se. However, I think this particular restaurant, in the way we built it, it’s not just for white dudes, even if that’s typically the target market. And so it just made more sense to me to have that other factor to build out her optimism. This woman who is just even one step more removed from who this restaurant is catering to is still going to convince herself to love it.
TM: Can you talk about some of the things that you were trying to wrestle with and work out outside of Lisa’s character?
AB: It’s a big mishmash. That was one of the real challenges in putting the movie together—it’s pretty stuffed. It takes place over the course of one day, and a lot happens. There are a lot of little subplots and themes that I’m weaving together, and much of that just came from me spinning out ideas on the different notions and perspectives that people bring in when they walk into a place like Double Whammies. Maybe no two customers want quite the same thing. Maybe no two waitresses quite understand the job the same way. Certainly no two managers do. And so a lot of it came from just running through, what are the rules in this place? What are the different ways to misunderstand the rules? What are the different ways to break the rules? And that’s kind of the structure of the movie.
TM: What did you notice as you visited these restaurants?
AB: They all have different variations on the theme. Bombshells is military themed. Bone Daddy’s serves ribs. I’m not an expert on the industry, but I do think it’s changing. I think they started out as places where flirting was a big part of it, and I’ve had the sense that they’re all getting less and less about that. They all seem to have cut down on the flirting and become more focused on the sports bar thing. But obviously boobs are still there.