Results is a film that I enjoyed more and more the further into it I got.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Results is the closest that writer-director Andrew Bujalski has yet come to making a ‘traditional’ indie dramedy, much as there can be a ‘traditional’ indie film. The architect of the alternately loved and despised Mumblecore subgenre with 2003’s Funny Ha Ha, Bujalski has slowly been making tentative steps away from that excessively low-key and realist genre since 2008’s Beeswax. First there was 2013’s experimental Computer Chess, and now there’s a somewhat conventional romantic dramedy. It hits the ground running, there’s a concrete ending, it has full-on themes that aren’t oblique or hidden beneath multiple scenes of nothing much happening, and professional recognisable actors in front of the camera. But it still feels recognisably Bujalski – proceedings are occasionally aimless, stakes are low, characters behave like people, and conversations are still filled with awkwardness and people stumbling over their words, although not to the usual extent.
…right, that’s not going to work. So… reviewing Results is hard. I’ve spent ages mulling over that first paragraph in various different permutations, and not just because my brain is dead-set on not working today. See, Results is one of those films that I just really liked watching. There are specific reasons why Results is great – and is the first Bujalski film I have really enjoyed, natch – but they kinda fall secondary to the fact that I really, really enjoyed the act of watching Results. It’s one of those films that I started out liking and then found myself enjoying more and more the further and further I got into the film. I mean, it does a lot of specific things right as the film goes on that definitely helped augment my enjoyment of the film, but the act of watching the film was the thing that I enjoyed the most from it.
I think that’s because Bujalski tones down the parts of Mumblecore that I don’t gel so much with – the excessive aimlessness, the resultant feeling that a film goes on for too long despite being barely 80 minutes, white people complaining about their pointless problems – and melds the parts that I do like – real-feeling characters, strong emphasis on relationships, great soundtracks – with more ‘traditional’ filmmaking conventions to make a film that works for me. Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies from 2013 did something similar, although that hues a bit closer to traditional Mumblecore than Results does, and that ended up as one of my favourite films of the year. I get the sense that I love the ideas and ideals of Mumblecore, but I just need it watered down somewhat for me to truly enjoy its results.
So, yeah, that’s the primary reason why I rate Results so high, it’s a film that I like watching because it’s Mumblecore without the genre’s excesses that usually turn me off. I guess I really like the results that come from that: character studies about interesting and somewhat relatable people who behave like real people in a world that feels realist but not excessively so. When pulled off well, as it is here and in Drinking Buddies, it provides a story that feels grounded in a relatable reality, but still has enough of an escapist distance to keep me from rejecting it – one reason I end up watching movies, you see, is for some semblance of escapism from my life, and so films that stray too close to realism run the risk of being rejected by me, usually for reasons related to my life. As a brief sidebar, I really despise Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu Mamá También because the two male leads remind me too much of some people I used to go to school with, and if wanted to spend two hours in the company of people I disliked at secondary school I would have actually stayed in touch with them.
Anyways, enough self-examination, Results is an enjoyable film based on its actual content too, believe it or not. Despite ostensibly being a romantic dramedy, Results is actually about loneliness, lonely people, and the various ways that exercise and personal training attempts to fill that emptiness in their lives. Trevor (Guy Pearce) is an idealistic dreamer who runs a gym called Power 4 Life that he wants to expand, fully believes in self-improvement and self-bettering that can come from training, but involuntarily has nothing else going on in his life as a result. Kat (Cobie Smulders) is Power 4 Life’s top personal trainer and fills every last second of her life with work and clients, to the point of self-exhaustion, committed to what she does but with seemingly little thought given to her life removed from where she’s at now. Danny (Kevin Corrigan) is a depressed recent divorcee who has recently come into a multi-million dollar fortune and signs up to Power 4 Life under questionable motives.
From there, things happen. Lots of things, actually. This is a film that very much earns its 105 minute runtime, as it works through damn-near every last possible aspect and character pairing that you can get from these three leads, but the film feels extremely natural in the way that it shifts gears, topics, and plot-based through-lines. The film seems like it’s going to be about Danny falling for Kat and the subsequent fallout between all three leads, but that’s all resolved by the 50 minute mark at the latest. From there, the film places that loneliness aspect at the forefront and deliberately works through each characters’ various neuroses and issues in a manner that again manages to walk the line of being realist but not excessively so.
More importantly, there’s the way that the film treats Danny. Trevor and Kat are easy to like, and the film makes no effort to keep them from being likeable and understandable, but Danny frequently is not. He’s clearly depressed and hurting badly from a messy end to what we are told was a bad marriage, but he’s still an incredibly hard guy to like. He’s very… awkward around Kat and spends much of the time when she’s not doing sessions with him looping a three second clip of her squatting in a Power 4 Life advert over and over again, pausing at the precise frame where her lowered form is at its most perfect. He’s petulant, more than a little creepy when it comes to women, aware of his faults but seemingly uninterested in actually working on improving them, and every time he starts being consistently likeable, he reverts back to being unreasonably selfish or borderline sexually-harassing.
Results recognises this, though, and doesn’t try to force Danny into being likeable. It still holds some semblance of affection for him, because it has that kind of genuine affection for all of its characters, but it mostly views him as pitiable, occasionally bordering on outright unlikeable. It wants you to keep that kind of distance from him instead of entering his headspace and fully empathising with him – best example coming from the fact that Bujalski never shoots any of Kat’s exercises or positions with a leering focus on her body, the emphasis nearly always being on herself, somebody else’s reactions, or something else that they’re doing in the scene instead – but not to the extent that you remain completely detached from him. After all, he can get better, he can improve, he just needs that kick up the arse to do so, he’s not without hope. It’s a tough line to walk, and I’ve probably done a poor job of explaining what I mean here, but the film pulls it off and it’s all the better for doing so instead of it completely sympathising with Danny, warts and all.
There’s also the fact that Kevin Corrigan nails Danny completely, taking him up to the brink of being completely likeable and sympathetic before walking him right back to the start again through perfectly delivered dickish behaviour. More than any other character in the movie, Danny is the one who feels the most human, even when he’s posting menial requests on Craigslist and paying the resultant responder $200 a go, and Corrigan’s nuances and especially his facial expressions and body language, do an outstanding job at walking that tightrope. That’s not said with the intention of underselling Guy Pearce or Cobie Smulders, though. Pearce is at his most likeable and natural, exuding charisma whilst letting Trevor’s few moments of sadness and loneliness and doubt feel momentous without resorting to over-dramatics, whilst Smulders feels incredibly relaxed and natural as Kat, striking up fantastic chemistry with Guy Pearce and the exact amount of awkward chemistry required with Kevin Corrigan.
But like I said near the beginning, there’s a real charm to Results. A really enjoyable natural feeling that I got from just watching the film. Sure, I really like it for its well-handled character study of loneliness, its fantastic performances, and the way that it balances the aspects of Mumblecore with the aspects of your more ‘traditional’ indie feature, but I mostly like it because I liked the feeling that I got from watching it. That feeling that I got from watching well-drawn characters grapple with their problems in a way and pace that felt real but not laboriously so. Characters who felt real with personal and small-scale problems, but not to the extent that their grappling with said problems felt whiney and painfully self-involved. It’s hard to explain, because it’s such an abstract concept and it’s tied to a lot of personal stuff and things that I personally enjoy in movies, but it’s the reason why I loved Results so much. I can’t promise that you’ll enjoy it in the manner and extent that I did, but it’s more than worth checking out.