From “Funny Haha” to “Computer Chess,” Andrew Bujalski’s movies relish the art of understatement. His fifth feature, “Results,” is at once the most distinctive example of that approach and an attempt to broaden its appeal by adopting the mold of something else entirely — a far more formulaic romantic comedy.
While the project counts Guy Pearce among its leads and sports more advanced production values than Bujalski’s other work, the narrative contains a unique texture. Though hardly a singular achievement on par with its precedents in the filmmaker’s career, “Results” shows the first indication of Bujalski’s ability to tell stories on a larger scale.
Pearce’s role as muscular Austin-based gym owner Trevor strikes an amusing contrast with the movie’s other bumbling male figure, lonely divorcee Danny (Kevin Corrigan), a chubby, affluent shell of a man living alone in his hulking, empty mansion. Out of sheer boredom, he hires Trevor’s gym to send him an instructor, and winds up getting assigned the neurotic Kat (Cobie Smulders). A 29-year-old wayfarer plagued by self-deprecation, Kat initially attempts to help Danny out of his deep funk and falls for his goofy charms; when that relationship turns sour, Trevor attempts to confront Danny about his behavior and inadvertently bonds with him as well.
Much of the movie revolves around this unwieldy trio talking through their various frustrations. Trevor, who harbors a pipe dream of building his gym into an elaborate physical and mental health clinic, constantly struggles to make his zen-like approach to physical health into a successful gamble, while Kat deals with her uneasy attraction to both men and her own burgeoning professional ambitions.
But Danny provides the secret ingredient that animates both of their lives. Roaming around his vacant home in crummy outfits and strumming lazily on an electric guitar, Danny resembles the aimless, soul-searching twentysomethings that distinguished Bujalski’s earlier movies — this time, all grown up with no place to go. The open-ended nature of the story reflects Danny’s somber, lazy demeanor, for which he shows no real intent on changing. “I prefer being pudgy and mellow,” he confesses to the trainers, and eventually just relies on the service for evening company.
Danny’s witty attempt to woo Kat by hiring a local band to play for her is the first of several comedically inspired miscalculations. It’s matched by his eventual friendship with Trevor, which unexpectedly emerges from an amusing slapstick brawl. Bujalski’s script contains innumerable rambling monologues involving Trevor’s false sense of confidence, but it’s the movie’s structure that stands out as its strongest asset: At first focused on Kat’s combustible relationship with Danny, it later foregrounds Trevor’s mishandled ambitions, which turns “Results” into a broader look at conflicting value systems and their impact on combustible personalities.
With its subdued tone and dialogue that leaves much of the small ensemble’s lives off-screen, the movie struggles at times to make its central romantic attractions into an emotionally involving center of the story. Still, Pierce’s deadpan delivery is a perfect counterpoint to Smuthers’ rambunctiousness, and a late scene in which the two work through their differences over the course of an awkward dinner conversation contains the subtle wit of a great screwball romantic comedy. By the final act, the tension dissipates rather than erupting in any specific payoff. But like all of Bujalski’s movies, the allure of individual moments have a tendency to grow on you.
Shot in slick bright colors by cinematographer Mathias Grunsky and pulled along by frequent Bujalski collaborator and Bishop Allen frontman Justin Rice’s ebullient score, “Results” goes down so easy it’s often hard to perceive the sophistication lurking beneath its polished surfaces. Still, there’s no mistaking the rich chemistry shared by these three eccentrics and the thematic implications they entail: that no amount of wealth or professional drive can account for the whims of personal satisfaction.
Eventually, “Results” arrives at the perception that the search for happiness holds less value than the ability to appreciate small, quietly appealing moments in the midst of a generally confusing reality. That’s Bujalski’s whole career in a nutshell; “Results” may not be the most satisfying example of that recurring focus, but it stands on the same uneven footing as its characters.
“Results” premiered this week at the Sundance Film Festival. Magnolia Pictures will release it later this year.