After making a movie about contract law (Beeswax) and another about a computer programming convention (Computer Chess), writer-director Andrew Bujalski continues his adventures in seemingly uncinematic subject matter with Results, a relationship comedy set around a strip-mall fitness club in suburban Texas. In some ways as much of a curveball as the experimental, shot-on-analog-video Computer Chess, the movie finds Bujalski working for the first time with a professional cast and with an aesthetic that looks more or less mainstream, provided a viewer ignores how many of its scenes play out in long-ish wide shots that bring to mind Albert Brooks’ directorial efforts. Its humor mines a similarly Brooks-ian vein, with low-commitment personalities squeezed tight by high-pressure relationships and environments.
For Bujalski—who, over five features, has become one of this country’s smartest observers of social behavior—this is another chance to portray a philosophy of life (fitness, in this case) struggling with the real world, and to explore that old and familiar question of what it takes to be happy. Aussie expat Trevor (Guy Pearce) is the founder and proprietor of Power 4 Life, a fitness club he runs on the outskirts of Austin with a small staff of personal trainers, including customer favorites Kat (Cobie Smulders) and Lorenzo (Tishuan Scott, the creepy cult leader from Computer Chess). Enter Danny (Kevin Corrigan, Walken-esque), a schlub with seemingly bottomless reserves of cash, who lives in an empty rented McMansion on a diet of pot and pizza. Lurching through the aftermath of a divorce, Danny shows up at Trevor’s wanting to get into shape, writes a check for two years’ worth of personal training with Kat, and buys himself a franchise gym’s worth of exercise equipment.
On a fundamental level, Results is about people trying to navigate each other’s personal space, with the sweaty physical intimacy of personal training as a contrast to emotional anxiety. (The movie also gets some good mileage out of the way different characters interact with the only chair in Trevor’s office, pushed tight against a wall of taxi-cab yellow.) It’s an easygoing comedy about different kinds of unease, whether it’s a stranger trying to get into his car while Kat and Trevor have an argument directly in front of it, or Danny—an average guy who unexpectedly inherited a massive fortune the day after finalizing his divorce—awkwardly adjusting to the life of the super-rich, hanging around glitzy charity galas where the banners proclaim “Childhood Cancers: We Care.” Subtleties—things as simple as the way people move around each other or try to repeat one another’s jokes—give shading to broadly drawn characters.
With Bujalski, this is business as usual, but by the standards of the contemporary indie rom-com, it’s refreshingly unpredictable and thoughtful. The writer-director—whose early films, shot on grainy handheld 16 mm, radiated matter-of-fact authenticity—built his reputation in part on teasing rich, funny performances out of non-professional actors, and he does the same here with a cast of pros. Smulders, Pearce, and Corrigan are loose and eminently likable, and the direction is so in tune with the actors that one is almost inclined to think of Results as a movie carried entirely by performance, overlooking how much its shape depends on style.