When critics talk about the “mumblecore” movement – a catch-all term for the intimate, unadorned and semi-improvisational films that flourished with the rise of the digital camera – they at least have the courtesy to credit Andrew Bujalski as its progenitor with Funny Ha Ha in 2002. Yet in that film and the two deft relationship comedies that followed, Mutual Appreciation and Beeswax, Bujalski was genuinely attempting something new, reproducing the common conversational hiccups that get buffed out of screenplay. The “ums” and sentence fragments and awkward little stops-and-starts not only fed into a distinct naturalism, but underlined the uncertainty at the core of his characters’ lives. He’s a poet of postgrad drift.
In the past few years, Bujalski has been figuring out how to scale up his work with larger (though still very modest) budgets and professional actors while still making it recognizably his own. His efforts coalesced beautifully in 2018’s Support the Girls, a sharply observed slice-of-life set in a downscale Hooters-style “breastaurant” on the brink. It may be the closest anyone has gotten to approximating the generosity and warmth of a Jonathan Demme movie since Demme died in 2017, yet there’s a subtle, deliberate messiness to it that’s pure Bujalski.
It’s also a great reason to go back and revisit Results, the underrated comedy Bujalski made three years before Support the Girls. The two films dig into the quirky ecosystems of suburban businesses, those fly-by-night operations that pop in and out of strip malls, destined to upend the lives of employees living paycheck to paycheck. In the meantime, they absorb the petty indignities of customer service, screw around during pockets of downtime, and casually eye the next gig that comes along. Their managers show more ambition, but they’re usually too busy putting out fires to reach that next rung on the social ladder.
In Results, the dodgy business in question is Power 4 Life, a small gym with a manager, Trevor (Guy Pearce), who believes whole-heartedly in an all-encompassing philosophy of self-improvement – the “4” stands for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – while his employees and customers mostly see it as a place to work out. His star trainer is Kat (Cobie Smulders), who succeeds mainly in terrorizing her clients into submission; when she spots one munching on a cookie, she runs full speed towards her minivan like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. That cookie won’t be included on the “food log”, and the lies and excuses send Kat into a fury.
Kat seems like precisely the wrong trainer for Danny (Kevin Corrigan), a lumpen slacker who fell into a massive inheritance just weeks after a divorce. His fitness goal is to be able to take a punch “without puking or pleading too much.” Kat should be repulsed by him, but she finds his lack of hypocrisy refreshing – not only does he not lie on his food log, but sends her photographs of the pizzas and other depression cuisine he’s jamming down his gullet. The two of them smoke weed in his rented McMansion and watch the widescreen TV he paid a Craigslist user $200 to turn on.
Trevor and Danny are infatuated by Kat. She and Trevor had an early fling, chalked up to an occupational hazard for “fit, sweaty people who work together”; Danny keeps stealing glances of her doing knee bends, showing him how to lead with his butt. All three are throughly calamitous human beings – Trevor a mass of insecurities despite his holistic philosophy, Kat listless and full of anger, Danny so inept that he doesn’t know how to spend his own money.
Enjoying Results involves getting on its unusual wavelength. Bujalski gets plenty of laughs from his characters’ foibles, but he’s an observational director, not a gagsmith. And he doesn’t want to force this love triangle to resolve itself too easily, either. People stumble through their lives just like they stumble through sentences in his early work. With each new comedy, he’s trying to find a cinema to accommodate that. It’s not as easy as it looks.
Results is available on Netflix in the US and UK