Results initially appears to be writer/director’s Andrew Bujalski first major foray into the mainstream. Bujalski, who cut his teeth with mumblecore classics like Mutual Appreciation and Funny Ha Ha, broke free from his twee niche with Computer Chess, a deeply weird period comedy about computer programmers who take over a hotel in the early 1980s. His first films all have grainy black and white photography, with non-actors in roles that are so carefully observed they seem like documentaries. His latest may look like a sprint in the opposite direction, yet Bujalski’s compelling peculiarities are prevalent in every scene. It is a strange, specific film with a glossy mainstream exterior.
Instead of a shabby hotel or small Brooklyn apartments, Results takes place primarily in bright, anonymous Texas suburbs. Danny (Kevin Corrigan) recently relocated there after leaving New York, and part of his fresh start is to get in shape. He visits a gym that’s owned by Trevor (Guy Pearce, keeping his Australian accent), and says his goal is “to learn how to take a punch.” Something is off about Danny, so Trevor is reluctant to set him up with Kat (Cobie Smulders), his best trainer. She persists, and Danny’s initial sessions with her strike an uneasy balance between fitness and sleazy flirtation. By introducing booze and weed into one evening session, Danny drops Kat’s professionalism and they make out a little. Since Danny is an unhappy manchild, he cannot handle this development like an actual adult, so his relationships with both Kat and Trevor develop in unexpected ways.
As it happened, before Results I watched the romantic comedy spoof They Came Together, and it’s a happy accident since the two films form a complementary, albeit unlikely double feature. They Came Together wallows in cliché, with deadpan humor that demonstrates just how predictable and annoying the genre has become. Results, on the other hand, is an anti-romantic comedy. The characters begin with familiar archetypes (the loser, the love interest, the asshole jock), then Bujalski stubbornly strips away the artifice until, well, they are flushed-out, three dimensional funny characters. The cinematography is disarming: the exteriors are pleasant and warm in an aggressive way, as if he is also skeptical of this environment. Bujalski has not forgotten his lo-fi roots, either, as there are long scenes where we watch Danny watch grainy YouTube footage. Like the rest of the film, Results looks one way in order so it can be subversive later.
The other major hallmark of Bujalski’s work is the specificity of his dialogue, and the same is true here. Kat and Trevor speak with the clipped, impersonal platitudes of the fitness industry. This a slice of life movie, just like Mutual Appreciation, and while this set of jargon is more common it is nonetheless impersonal, a way for trainers to dominate others and protect themselves (both Trevor and Kat have droll moments where they’re forced to reconcile with the bullshit inherent in their profession). Danny, on the other hand, speaks with a kind of indifference that borders on depression. Thanks to an unexpected inheritance, Danny is independently wealthy, but he’s also reeling from a divorce so his way of coping is both childish and vulgar. He spends more time with Kat and Trevor, independently of each other, and they drop their respective artifices drop until their conversations are more honest (they’re still funny because they also surprise each other). No characters behave like someone in a romantic comedy because, unlike David Wain’s They Came Together, they are not avatars for Bujalski’s frustration. He actually likes these people.
Results must be a refreshing project for its actors, since they can loosen up while doing something that’s more challenging than it initially seems. Corrigan, a character actor who’s appeared in everything from sit-coms to Scorsese films, is the anchor of the film since his sullen, authentic Danny is a welcome antithesis to personal trainers who pretend actual empathy is beneath them. In an interesting twist, Danny fades away from the film halfway, so Bujalski turns his attention to Kat and Trevor instead. They used to sleep together, and their cycle of passion and distance would be exhausting, except Bujalski has the patience to film his characters when they’re most vulnerable (i.e. when they are alone). There are long sequences where we watch everyone hang out on their own, and they’re key to the success of Results. The non-verbal acting from Pearce and Smulders is subtle, yet pitch-perfect. Although Bujalski does not supply the typical third act suspense of most romantic comedies, it is easy to cheer for them since we know exactly how they deny themselves happiness.
As with every Bujalski film, Results is not for everyone. Many sequences are off-putting and meandering, with no immediate desire to entertain an audience. Sure, there are several moments of comedy and several pitch-perfect supporting actors, including Giovanni Ribisi as a weirdo lawyer/drug dealer, except the script also has a lived-in, authentic quality so it seems as if the characters have free will. Results has more in common with leisurely Eric Rohmer films, not the typical indie rom coms that are popular every summer, even if trainer of the hot Texas suburbs will never be as introspective as Rohmer’s young French intellectuals. Danny, Trevor, and Kat are annoying and likable in equal measure, just like all your friends, and Bujalski’s point is characters like these are worth forgiving.