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London Film Festival 2018: Support the Girls, Goddess

Haley Lu Richardson, Regina Hall and Shayna McHayle in Support the Girls

Bottoms up! Andrew Bujalski lets loose in Support the Girls, a cheeky little low-key comedy that thrives off the ethos of making the most of what you've got, whether that's its characters or its filmmakers. And what they've collectively got is an utter delight! Such are this movie's charms that there's a palpable tension every time it tightens up to turn a corner or shift focus, but this is merely Bujalski's faithfulness to his vision informing some unconventional narrative and tonal choices - unconventional, that is, in the context of the genre of the raunchy, all-female American comedy.

It's within this genre that Support the Girls only ironically operates - Bujalski sets sail here on terms of style and manner indentured to no particular scheme, lest it deign to align itself with this movie's rhythm. It operates both within the mainstream and in direct opposition to it, balances constructed comedy with deconstructed naturalism, creates dramatic impasses and swerves them in equal measure. If there's no reason to any of this beyond whatever works for lead Regina Hall, that's fine by me - she's wondrously magnetic as the general manager of a Hooters-style sports bar juggling a dozen different responsibilities, and convincing entirely as a woman whose inclination it is to assume every one of those and to follow them through to their best outcome, such is her humanity. There's a hint of the 'hooker with a heart of gold' stereotype not just to her but to several of the ensemble of characters, and it's not without intention - Support the Girls deals in yet more contradictions, indulging in physical objectification only to lambast it, establishing one cliche before demolishing another. Bujalski comments quietly but so persuasively on the position of women in contemporary America, even subtly throwing in a few pointed signals to an intersectional approach to this discussion. And it's persuasive because it's all true.

Support the Girls fits again with a running theme in my coverage of films set to screen at the LFF this year: family, here meaning those we come to adopt as our family, indeed those who we need to adopt and take with us through life if we're to survive. The African-American woman doesn't get it so easy in the 2-minute short Goddess, from the U.S.' premier pioneer of films that reconfigure the face of the black American identity, Kevin Jerome Everson. His woman sits and dials, semi-nude and silent, a passively seductive gaze directed at the camera. It may once have been a submissive gaze, but now it is a confrontational one. We're looking back - this is the 1970s, we deduce - and observing a reclaimation of the depiction of black female sexuality on film; in so doing, we acknowledge its exploitation in history, and wonder in what way will modern abuses be treated 40 years from now. Everson has never been apolitical, in spite of what he may occasionally claim, but he's never yet been so provocative.

You can check out both Support the Girls and Goddess at the London Film Festival next month, when its 2018 edition runs from the 10th to the 21st; Goddess screens as part of the short films programme 'Today Is a Thing of the Past'.

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