Squats and lifts. . .

In his unique previous film Computer Chess Andrew Bujalski showed he was ready to branch out. He also produced a strange and wonderful cult classic. Well, this time he does something completely different: a romantic comedy. Results is inevitably a disappointment after Computer Chess, whose creepy brilliance it totally fails to equal. But it has pleasures to offer, and is no sell-out. This is not your standard issue rom-com. And for Bujalski, it has much that is new.

The venue is no longer the nerdy Northeast but Austin, Texas, where the director himself has been living for a while and shot his previous two films, though this is the first one set there. He has finally moved away from odd formats like 16mm and archaic video and from black and white to colour. Is he still a “Mumblecore” director? That ceased to mean much with the rare period setting and format recreation of Computer Chess anyway. Here it may just mean that, like so many other filmmakers, Bujalski seeks for his dialogue to sound like “the way people talk,” as does that of his former role models, Cassavetes, Pialat, and Leigh.

And now, not only the locale but the people are recognisably different from any previous Bujalski cast of characters. No more colourless, drifty Boston young people or oddball geniuses. This movie revolves around three vaguely familiar characters who might appear in a more conventional rom-com. They are: an enthusiastic fitness gym operator, Trevor (Guy Pearce); his recalcitrant and sexy personal trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders); and a rich and unpredictable new client, Danny (Kevin Corrigan). Bujalski isn’t relying on relatively inexperienced performers but for the first time uses three actors with long CV’s. And others with similar credentials occupy (and are somewhat underused in) minor roles, such as Giovanni Ribisi, who plays Paul, Danny’s newly discovered source for weed and possible commercial lawyer.

Bujalski has chosen his three leads shrewdly, and builds his movie around their distinct qualities — so much so that it seems a bit as if each is playing in his or her own movie. It is not clear any one of these characters needs the others. Each is stubborn and self-absorbed, and no one of them knows well enough who he is or what he wants to share life with another person. This is the serious point of Results, but these people are floundering so much, the action flounders a bit too. Bujalski has entered a familiar field, but not necessarily an easy one for a director used to meandering action and dithering characters. Rom-coms tend to work best with well-turned plots, and for these to work have to give their characters sharp ways to interact. Things do happen in Results of course, and it does end with romance — and a kiss, actually a bunch of kisses. But we are getting to the plot last because it’s not the most important or the best thing about the movie. And maybe, though some consider it hilarious, it’s not quite as funny as it might have been had the characters been given more distinctive contours.

“Results” are what a gym promises those who sign up. Kat is a committed and charismatic personal trainer, nearly Trevor’s most popular, were it not for the tall, godlike Lorenzo (Tishuan Scott), who appeals to both men and women. (Tishuan Scott, like Ribisi, is underused.) With some reservation, Trevor sets up Danny with Kat, who goes to his largely empty McMansion, where he falls for her. The movie is, plot-wise, about how Kat rejects both Danny and Trevor, both as client (or boss) and as lovers, and then, happily, reneges, deciding to stick around. Danny also undergoes reconciliation, probably not with fitness training, but with the other two, as friends, I guess.

Trevor’s ambition is evident in every scene; he not only spouts fitness guru rhetoric about mind, emotion, body, and spirit and all that, but believes it. Guy Pearce was a competitive body builder in Australia and plays this with a full-on Aussie accent. He’s effortlessly convincing in this role, a distinctive mix of passionate and uptight. Cobie Smulders, who seems a little like Kate Winslet, plays Kat as a mix too, half pettish and childish, half tough and independent; sure of herself only in wanting to be sure of herself. Kevin Kerrigan is the wild card. Gradually we find out Danny’s story: divorced, lonely, overweight, he’s just recently, to his surprise, inherited a fortune from his estranged mother, who had married a very rich man; and he’s moved to Austin from New York to collect. He might want to be sexier, eat better. Or maybe not. Money is not an issue. He doesn’t quite know what to do with it, or with himself. Like Bujalski’s Mumblecore characters (though unlike them in most other ways), each of these three protags is unformed and uncertain. They just have more money, muscle, and energy.

Trevor’s desire to raise things “to the next level” leads him to a much larger space for his business. Despite Kat’s firing Danny as a client after he’s tried to woo her with a fancy meal and live jazz at his house, Trevor manages to hold onto Danny as a “friend,” whose money can be useful. He persuades Danny, with Paul’s approval, to go halves on the business to acquire the new space. At first, Kat quits not only being Danny’s trainer, but working for Trevor, and she turns down his request that they become lovers again.

Everything has been disassembled, so to speak. Seeking inspiration, Trevor makes a pilgrimage to an absurd Russian fitness guru/promoter called Grigory (Anthony Michael Hall) who’s a role model for him, whereupon Kat and Trevor have a big, big rapprochement.

Hearing some call Results “Altmanesque” confused me, till I saw the final scene, a dance party with live music staged at the end by Danny, and the camera focused on a cat. Okay, if a cat plays a role in this scene, that’s Altmanesque!  And this festive finale feels like classic comedy.

What hasn’t happened is that Andrew Bujalski has taken his things to the next level: he did that last time. But he’s made an correction. While Computer Chess veered far into the avant-garde, he has now turned the dial well in the opposite direction. The positive step for his career is that with Results, Bujalski has a big distributor and a real chance at the mainstream audience.

Results debuted at Sundance and SXSW Jan. and Mar. 2015. It opened in the UK, all 29 May.

Director: Andrew Bujalski
Stars: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Korrigan, Giovanni Ribisi, Tishuan Scott, Anthony Michael Hall, Zoe Graham, Brooklyn Decker
Runtime|: 105 mins
Country: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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