written by: Andrew Bujalski
produced by: Paul Bernon, Houston King, Sam Slater
directed by: Andrew Bujalski
rating: R (for language, some sexual content, and drug use)
runtime: 105 min
U.S. release date: January 27, 2015 (Sundance Film Festival); May 2, 2015 (Chicago Critics Film Festival); May 29, 2015 (limited release)
"We may disagree on the definition of healthy."
It's incredibly interesting to watch Results, the latest film from director Andrew Bujalski, the day after seeing Joe Swanberg's Digging for Fire, if only because they present a stark contrast in the growth and development of filmmakers that started out in micro-budget filmmaking. Results is a study in evolution, from Bujalski's early, informal style, into someone who inherently understands the language of film, and can exploit it in brilliant and often unexpected ways. In fact, unexpected is virtually the best way to describe the film, because no matter how versed in character and story a filmgoer may fancy themselves, the film's greatest asset is its ability to continue delivering surprising turns of event.
Playing perhaps the most wholly realized sad sack of a career rife with them, Kevin Corrigan stars as Danny, a man who strikes it rich immediately following his divorce from Christina, played by Corrigan's real life spouse Elizabeth Berridge of Amadeus fame. Unsure of what to do with his money, he wanders, dazed, into a gym where he tells the gym's proprietor Trevor (Guy Pearce) that he wants to get in shape. When questioned by Trevor about his personal fitness goals, Danny seems to have only one goal in mind: to be able to take a punch. Though leery of Danny's true motives, Trevor is press-ganged by Kat (Cobie Smulders), his most ambitious trainer, into giving Danny private, at-home personal training.
Thus begins this interesting three pronged character study that is nothing if not constantly shifting toward and back away from the predictable and mundane. To call this a romantic comedy is both wholly accurate and somewhat demeaning, mainly because of the negative associations with that most hackneyed of genres. The film is hysterically funny, often in unusual ways, mining comedy from a rich vein filled with characters uncertain of how to really and truly relate to others. All three of these characters seem, on the surface, to have enough skills to make them fully formed people, but their inability to grasp interpersonal dynamics makes them stunted. They're not stunted in that adolescent, indie film, cutesy way either, which makes them far more believable as real people.
There is a heightened reality at play here, but it stays grounded enough in the real world, and that is a testament to all three lead performers. Corrigan is perhaps the most underrated actor of his generation, and his lack of vanity is by far his finest virtue. He shines when pulling back the curtain to show the damaged soul within who still longs for his ex-wife while stumbling blindly toward a relationship with Kat that has no realistic framework in which it can survive. Watching his boneheaded attempts to woo her, first with drugs, then with a jazz trio, strike the perfect balance between hysterically comedy and heartbreaking pathos.
Pearce and Smulders are also incredibly good, with Pearce managing to take a character that is normally a punchline in films like this—the often boneheaded, career minded gym rat—and infusing him with a believability that makes him easy to root for. Any worry that he will be just another muscle head whose empty philosophies make him an easy target of ridicule evaporate almost instantaneously. Smulders similarly takes a character that most people would see as another unlikable, driven, overly ambitious woman, and gives her an undercurrent of sadness that works in perfect rhythm with her co-stars. It's not often that you're given three deeply flawed main characters, all of whom are worth caring about.
The supporting cast is also terrific, with the standouts being Giovanni Ribisi, who drops in for a handful of very funny scenes, and an extended cameo by Anthony Michael Hall as an Eastern European kettlebell champion who borrows more than a little bit of his look and characterization from Dolph Lundgren. These are all ridiculous characters, that behave in increasingly ridiculous ways, and yet you never fail to believe their reality because it's so well realized both at a scripted level and from their performances.
Bujalski is such a versatile filmmaker that you can never be sure what to expect from one of his films. His work toward building a concrete, workable script serves him just as well here as his more improvisational style has served him in the past. He understands the language of cinema, and therefore knows how to subvert it in increasingly brilliant ways. No matter what else you might think about Results, you'll never see it sneaking up on you until it's already done charming your pants off.