Results is a sincere and interesting attempt at reworking the traditional rom-com, bringing emotional depth and individuality to its central characters. Focused on a directionless millionaire trying to get in shape, and his developing relationship with both his trainer and her boss, the film attempts to grow interesting dilemmas out of fully formed characters in organic ways. Part satire on fitness culture, part investigation into combating modern alienation, the film is not as successful as it could be but is certainly worth watching.
Director: Andrew Bujalski.
Screenplay: Andrew Bujalski.
Runtime: 105 minutes.
Cast: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan, Giovanni Ribisi.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Plot: Fresh off a difficult divorce, out-of-shape Danny (Kevin Corrigan) hires personal trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders) to overcome his lazy self and whip him into shape. But Danny’s malaise proves more powerful than the trademarked Power 4 Life system that Kat teaches, dragging fitness founder and boss Trevor (Guy Pearce) into conflict with his most valuable but unmotivated client. Things become further muddied as a love triangle emerges, and Danny uses his recently inherited millions to interfere in Trevor’s business, and his relationship with Kat.
Review: It’s hard not to sympathise with director Andrew Bujalski’s ambitions for his latest film Results, a lo-fi attempt at an anti-rom-com that pays more than lip service to the emotional dilemmas its characters find themselves in. The central triumvirate – millionaire slacker Danny, popular fitness instructor Kat, and health-wellbeing entrepreneur Trevor – arrive as fully formed, emotionally complex characters with well drawn histories. Their interactions and developing relationships are a whole lot less ideal than the classic when-Harry-met-Sally staple of the genre. The resulting ups and downs of the narrative, invested as it is in the emotional lives of its characters, is also less predictable than the classic Hudson-McConaughey template. This is a relationship comedy with a bracing dose of reality and complexity injected, which should be a whole lot more refreshing than it actually is. The results are, unfortunately, mixed.
Part of the reason is the necessary lack of focus within the film, which spends time building out the existential approaches and dilemmas of its three core characters. This is way off template for a staple Hollywood genre, where the lives of the two main characters who are destined to live happily ever after are only ever coloured in if that colour serves the feel-good narrative of the plot. Results takes the opposite tack, actively illustrating the issues and struggles that prevent these characters from functioning fully within their roles. These individual portraits, within themselves, are extremely successful and one can’t help but feel that if the film focused on simply one of its three characters it would succeed as a socially acute indie film. But this would in no way bust open the hoariest of mainstream genres, which seems to be Bujalski’s ambition in making the film.
The most fully realised narrative centres around Danny, who finds himself rudderless six months after a divorce from the woman he loved but took for granted. A mere week after their permanent separation, he also discovers that his estranged mother has died – leaving him a small fortune from his also deceased step-father’s side of the family. Cue his move to Texasto try out a new life in an empty mansion, rented by Danny but never fully settled into. None of this is recounted directly in the film, except within the occasional dash of background dialogue, but the image of Danny in a vacant mansion tooling around on his electric guitar (a collection of which steadily grows during the film) fills in all the gaps. There is a pool out back too, Danny observes, as he and his recently hired trainer survey his unused fitness equipment. The film is ruthlessly effective at conveying Danny’s talent for alienating any potential friend or colleague, cementing in his isolation and hopelessness – making a mockery of his half-hearted attempt to realise fulfilment through his proscribed “Power 4 Life” fitness regime.
Contrast that to Kevin Corrigan’s performance as Danny, which is sharply observed; and rather than alienating the audience will have viewers nodding in recognition at his despair over his flabby body and his realisation that nothing will improve until his own sadness is in check. Corrigan is a master of malaise, turning out a performance that only a professional self-despairing everyman like Louis C. K. could beat.
That aforementioned philosophy, which the film expands vaguely, is the brainchild of aspiring gym entrepreneur Trevor, delicately and sincerely played by Guy Pearce. That Trevor’s philosophical approach to well being with a dash of the spiritual (but take it or leave it, clients) is about as generic and vapid as any other approach makes his character all the more poignant. Trevor, having gone through some unelabourated emotional or mental break in his past, truly believes in his own approach as transformational through direct personal experience. That his financial well-being depends on him selling his approach, sometimes a little insincerely and to his distaste, ratchets up the portrait to Little Miss Sunshine levels of heartbreak. At the same time, Trevor’s fanaticism and desire to build something seems to have stripped the rest of his life of the company of anyone except a faithful dog (which, in a running gag, doesn’t seem that interested in him or his drumming). At the other end of the spectrum to Danny, his isolation seems to come from his constant action and focus rather than the opposite.
Between these two poles is the object of their affection, Kat, played competently if a little too earnestly by Cobie Smulders. A talented trainer who is well liked by her clients, she struggles with cynicism about her chosen profession but has little idea what she would like to do instead. Of all the characters, hers is possibly the most underdeveloped – we are told little about her past that doesn’t straightforwardly suggest directionless – and as a result, our understanding of her motivations or desires is left unclear. This weakens Bujalski’s critique of the rom-com, as his heroine is similarly as featureless and unmotivated as those of the genre, who exist simply to be won over. While Kat seems a little more empowered than the average female love interest, we get little sense of what she wants other than the opportunities pressed onto her by the other male character (mainly Danny).
The film falters because it has to do so much, and maintain focus, in a format that is intentionally diffuse and wandering. The narrative of romantic couple that are meant to be together, despite the odds, has almost to be smuggled in by Bujalski under the cover of another story and seems almost out of nowhere when it finally works out. As the credits role, we come to the realisation that the suitably musical, romantic ending of films of this ilk will always defeat any subtlety of meaning the preceding moments have been working to establish. It’s a crying shame, as the portraits of Trevor and Danny are so sharply drawn and deftly acted.
It’s also a shame that many of the targets of the film have been covered elsewhere so memorably, particularly the gym culture. Almost an incidental victim in the Coen Brother’s Burn After Reading, any attempt to dissect or satirise a fanatical fitness culture must necessarily step out of its shadow. Results attempts that with a much more sincere approach, but falls short of making any deep points that haven’t been made before. Ditto the self-help entrepreneur shadow and Little Miss Sunshine. Or, dare I say it, the sad-sack millionaire; most of us will wonder that with all of that money, surely there are a world of things one could try. Weirdly enough, our sympathy for Danny rests in the shadow of Happy Madison or Brewster’s Millions, where there are a world of exciting possibilities that only money can open the door to.
Results is worth seeing and was certainly worth making; anything that moves us out of the comfort zone of our genre expectations is laudable. But it will take a few more attempts before a film of this sort works, and realises its ambitions of exploding the rom-com once and for all.
Rating: Three stars.