Results Dir. Andrew Bujalski

[Magnolia Pictures; 2015]

Styles: romantic comedy
Others: Your Sister’s Sister, Drinking Buddies

When I get bummed out by the machinations of the independent film industry I remember that Andrew Bujalski is making films and it cheers me up. His career has always been unlikely, but is especially so in the current climate, where retrofitted genre films have all the flash and festivals are seen as springboards to fling young filmmakers to the studios or to TV. But Bujalski is not a stepping stone director. Years after “inventing” mumblecore with his enduring debut Funny Ha Ha he continues to make cerebral, quietly funny films about human behavior. Far from recycling John Carpenter, his throwback film was the confounding and bizarrely great Computer Chess (TMT Review), about a clash between nerds and spiritual seekers staying at the same hotel during a 1980 computer chess tournament (it recycled only the analog cameras used for the lo-fi black-and-white cinematography). Bujalski’s films are fresh, uneven, and stubbornly his own. His new film Results, a sort of a screwball romantic comedy about fitness trainers in Austin, Texas, is being sold as his Big Movie. It is brighter and a bit snappier than his past films, but he’s also working with a more prominent cast who finally bring out the best in Bujalski’s material, especially in terms of pacing. Like their fitness-obsessed characters, this film lets the actors stretch, yielding instinctual, loose performances. Whatever the cause, I’m happy to say Results keeps it weird.

Guy Pearce plays Trevor, the energetic entrepreneur whose unflagging positivity buoys his gym Power 4 Life (or with the Aussie accent, Powah for Lyfe). For Trevor it’s not just about kale smoothies and toned muscles; he considers what he does a kind of spiritual conditioning that helps people realize their best selves. Odd then that his star employee Kat (Cobie Smulders) is an aggressive trainer who lacks any of Trevor’s warm fuzzies. Kat favors tough — I can’t call it love, maybe tough honesty? She’s not above harassing and shaming a suburban housewife behind on her payments, and when a middle-aged client tells Kat he’s not seeing a difference and doesn’t want to train anymore her response is to shove him and yell, “Fuck you, you’re not a quitter!” So why does Trevor keep Kat around? The chemistry between them tells us far before the film does that there’s a history there.

To complete the love triangle in walks Danny (Kevin Corrigan), a morose New Yorker trying to start over in Austin after his recent divorce. He mysteriously lives in an empty, echoing mansion, playing electric guitar and eating pizza. He tells Trevor his goal is to “be able to take a punch” and buys two years of private lessons from Power 4 Life. Kat maneuvers her way into getting this new client, but Danny is far too distracted by the sight of her in spandex to do much actual exercising. He makes an ill-advised move on Kat, who briefly succumbs before repelling him. An enraged Trevor confronts Danny, but Trevor’s self-help radar goes off, and he and Danny are soon knee-deep in a training montage. It helps that Danny has recently lucked into an inheritance that he is clearly ill-equipped to manage, since Trevor is expanding his business and needs an investor.

But the plot — the “results,” shall we say — isn’t really the point. The pleasure is in individual scenes and small moments. Corrigan, Smulders, and Pearce are all great, but really so is everyone else. Giovanni Ribisi and Anthony Michael Hall have prominent supporting roles, and both steal the movie in their brief sequences. Ribisi plays the stoned lawyer who helps broker the deal between Danny and Trevor, and his performance is a study in mellow brilliance where just watching him eat breakfast tacos is compelling. (Sidenote: now that Ben Mendelsohn is getting shine, my work there is done, and I want to proselytize for Ribisi. I’ve loved seeing him pop up in several indie films lately: he’s the highlight of Reed Morano’s Meadowland too. Ribisissance… could that be a thing?) On the other end of the spectrum, Anthony Michael Hall puts his improbably brawny, steely physique to perfect use playing Grigory, a Slavic kettle bell guru who crushes Trevor’s dreams. Trevor seeks out Grigory hoping to get advice and create synergy between his fledgling business and Grigory’s popular brand, but Grigory is a pragmatist who skewers Power 4 Life as American hokum (soft in the belly comes to mind). As he says in his popular online videos, “Choose your misery. You can cry or you can work.”

Results is full of these slightly irrational but entertaining detours, but ultimately it is a romantic comedy. Bujalski is making fun of the idea that people can change but it’s not a cynical stance. He also seems to be suggesting that our stubborn flaws are what make us lovable. The love story between Kat and Trevor isn’t entirely unexpected but it’s unique in the way it plays out, including a breakfast scene that may be one of Bujalski’s best. It’s a lovely moment, built on misunderstanding and argument, just a boy and a girl falling in love over egg white omelettes.

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