Andrew Bujalski’s latest, Results, is his most conspicuously ‘mainstream’ offering yet, following the warm critical reception to 2013’s sublime Computer Chess. But the caveat here is that these things are all relative. It boasts bigger stars than he’s worked with before (the dependable and versatile Guy Pearce, the Marvel fan-favourite Cobie Smulders and the in-everything-eventually Giovanni Ribisi) and it plays in the multiplex comfort zone labelled Romantic Comedy. Yet Results isn’t in multiplexes. You’d be hard pushed to find it in the listings at your local independent. If Bujalski’s intent was to overtly court mass audiences, he’s missed the mark on this occasion.
Not that Results feels like mainstream fare. Bujalski has a curious, introspective eye and his shrewd, even mean examination of his characters pushes against the more conventional feel-good moods found in your typical popcorn movies. Here his story revolves around the interlocking lives and relationships at a gym called Power 4 Life owned by Trevor (Pearce, allowed the freedom of his native accent). A wealthy schlub named Danny (Kevin Corrigan) pays Power 4 Life a visit one day expressing a desire to get fit, or at the very least take a punch. Despite some reservations, Trevor assigns Kat (Smulders) as Danny’s personal trainer. She visits him at his home where they start working together.
Danny talks candidly of boredom and depression, and his expansive residence feels too large for him. We later discover it’s only a rental. Danny is transient. For all his disposable fortune, nothing much sticks. Bujalksi affords Results some time to bed in Danny’s loner lifestyle; cultivated by choice as much as anything else. Yet Danny is aware enough to seek more from his present routines even as he orders unnecessary pizzas or pays a guy $300 so he can stare at YouTube videos of Kat’s behind on his large flat screen TV. It’s Bujalski’s penchant for itemising his characters’ flaws that persists in Results and has perhaps made this inch toward conventional filmmaking something of a hard sell. We’re still comfortably left of centre.
While Danny and Kat tread the waters of an expected if unlikely burgeoning romance, Trevor aims to realise his dreams of building on the modest success of Power 4 Life, looking at new real estate, visualising his rose-tinted version of the future. Trevor could be that genuine, infuriating personality type; the abundantly happy and healthy individual, but Bujalski and Pearce start painting in uncertainties, suggesting a hive of self-doubt buzzing away just below the surface. When Kay pulls a sicky, Trevor brings her soup (knowingly recalling Nicolas Cage in the 1988 weirdo gem Vampire’s Kiss?). It’s just over the line of professional into the awkwardly desperate or obsessive. Just a shade, but telling nonetheless. When Trevor’s perceived territory is threatened by Danny, however, he flies off of the handle. That old cliché of the raging body builder? Or something more complex? Trevor’s more level-headed persistence suggests the latter.
When Danny intensifies his efforts to court Kat she grows not just uncomfortable but hostile (“go give it (your money) to Cancer Research then go get cancer, you rich fuck!”), having already compromised their professional relationship. Danny’s overtures to Kat feel immature, half-learned from Hollywood rom-coms and when Trevor talks about his feelings for her, Kat can’t help but snigger or smirk. Inevitably Danny and Kat are a smokescreen for the real focus; Kat and Trevor. With all this Bujalski feels as though he is picking at the rom-com’s tropes while pretending to bend to them. Needless to say Kat herself is no ditzy love interest in all this; she’s an angry, awkward firebrand who has a habit of taking weakness in others as evidence of a personal failure in herself; bolshy, flawed and aggravated at her own imperfections just like her male counterparts.
That other old stereotype the training montage is likewise subtly lambasted (“You’ve seen Rocky right? That’s half the battle”) as Bujalski indulges in all manner of jump cuts and wipes as he pushes the timeline on and massages the character dynamics into the film’s second phase. Mostly though he presents us a trio of individuals who are striving for self-improvement while constantly self-sabotaging. Underpinning this in fits and starts is a score of drums and haphazardly played electric guitar, echoing the awkwardness of the three leads as they inch themselves around one another.
Results isn’t too clever for its own good, or at least it’s not too clever to remain openly enjoyable and frequently quite funny (at least in a wry, observational way). Yet while Bujalski ups the ante from the conventional rom-com, there’s a level of safety to this step that doesn’t feel as bold as Computer Chess. Of course, not every film in a director’s career has to be a brave or idiosyncratic leap, and Results does still represent something of a stylistic shift for Bujalski, but one can’t help but feel that in the grand scheme of things this one will be looked back on as a transitioning piece. One between others. Even at its end, Bujalski undercuts expectations by cutting from an expected emotional high to bored teens, restlessly changing channels. For a second I wondered if the whole movie had been something they couldn’t quite bring themselves to finish; a good film destined to pass most people by, which is something of a shame.
Meanwhile the sight of Anthony Michael Hall (The Breakfast Club) as a gristled, ageing Scandinavian body builder has made me feel as though my whole life has just blinked by.