“That’s it, nice and slow,” Guy Pearce drawls in a comedic Aussie voice over a drum kick and a shameless simulation of Rocky’s latera title scroll, the sounds of his and Cobie Smulders’ moaning sex bleeding into a shot of Kevin Corrigan’s schlubby divorcee pleading outside his ex-wife’s window. With its subsequent montage of crisp gym shots percolating to composer Justin Rice’s riff on “Another One Bites the Dust,” Results is mumblecore alumni Andrew Bujalski’s most confident—and thrilling—opening gambit by a wide margin. It’s also a neat summary of the film’s asymmetrical romantic triangle between two personal trainers (Pearce and Smulders) and the nouveau rich interloper (Corrigan) who comes between them, a scenario that Bujalski deceptively cultivates without fuss under the guise of gentle satire. The workout doesn’t approach the transcendent core of his Computer Chess, but it confirms that 2013 breakout wasn’t a fluke: he’s well and truly left the lo-fi flexing behind for the more rewarding pursuit of ambition.
Like Chess, with its bizarro alt dimension of tech weirdoes and new age swingers, Results is set in a cult world that serves as an abstraction of reality through which to explore emotional dissonance. Pearce’s forty-something Trevor is a self-styled workout guru who subscribes in all sincerity to the typically absurd philosophy of his Power4Life gym, while his tightly-wound trainer-with-benefits Kat (Smulders) is the kind of hardass who’ll jump on the bonnet of her soccer mum client’s car if she sees them sneaking an extracurricular ice cream. That both are masking emotional issues is no surprise, and each duly unravels with the arrival of Corrigan’s Danny, a new transplant to Austin, Texas who uses his just-acquired fortune to rent a hideous McMansion and enlist Kat as his after-hours fitness instructor.
The inherent ridiculousness of America’s personal empowerment culture—and its attendant loneliness—doesn’t escape Bujalski’s attention, with every image of Pearce’s hardened, jacked-up bod or Smulders’ tense sprinting contrasted with moments of private uncertainty, while Corrigan, overweight, depressed and taking selfies of himself eating pizza in an unfurnished palace, is the embodiment of consumerism’s detritus. “Knock over a wall with my butt?” Corrigan asks Smulders at one point. “Yeah, knock over your sadness, knock over your anxieties,” she replies. The world itself is stark and ugly, and nothing like the “cool” Austin of cultural lore: this is a landscape of identikit cream houses, plastic SUVs, yellow t-shirts and ever-present YouTube screens, simultaneously boosting and mocking the image of their users. Only Anthony Michael Hall, playing a comically chauvinistic Russian trainer, seems to be aware of the illusion. “I choose to marry gorgeous woman,” he boasts, but admits, “someday the body will break down”
Yet Results is too smart to merely be concerned with such easy marks. Any smug Sundance filmmaker can take potshots at suburban gym culture; Bujalski is more interested in how these people connect, or fail to, and how their strange network of confidence betrays a fundamental insecurity. His actors understand this, hitting just the right note of empathy for these generally unpleasant people without sliding into caricature, while Bujalski, DP Matthias Grunsky and editor Robin Schwartz conjure up off-kilter compositions and comic-book wipes to create an uneasy physical and emotional space for the players. (A late-film chase sequence, with dueling iPod soundtracks, is a especially great example of their creative symmetry.)
That Bujalski has managed to make a film out of these ingredients that’s both dryly amusing and emotionally substantial is no mean feat; that he’s done it with an often-inspired formal exuberance is something almost unthinkable given the filmmaker he was less than a decade ago. (That’s not meant to diminish his earlier work; he’s just operating on a different playing field.) I’ll admit that I was hoping for a curveball as astonishing as Computer Chess, but in terms of performing per the label on the box, this one fulfils the promise of its title.
Published at 4:3