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NPR Arts & Life

Self-Improvement Gets Romantic In 'Results'

Kat, a personal trainer played with rabid verve by Cobie Smulders in the terrific new comedy Results, is a recognizable gym rat modestly enlarged for comical promise. "I lead with my butt," the dedicated workout queen tells a client, oblivious to the fact that he's already rather taken with that highly buffed part of her anatomy. She's obsessive and blunt and aggressive almost unto unbearable. It can safely be said that empowerment is not Kat's problem.

Fear not: Kat has by no means sprung from the mind of a misogynist, and we're meant to love her as much as do the two men competing for her attention, after a fashion. Almost every endeavor is after a fashion in the willfully weird, yet exceptionally ordinary world according to Andrew Bujalski. The writer-director came up with the loosely affiliated mumblecore group of filmmakers like Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig and the Duplass brothers, all of them skittish about genre and obsessed with the dilemmas of slacker types stranded between college graduation and jobless futures.

So you'd expect Bujalski, who made Beeswax and Computer Chess and a couple of other extreme indies, to poke fun at gym culture, the ultimate soft target. And he does, but sweetly and without disparagement in Results, the closest he has gotten to pop genre and certainly his first movie with name actors. The movie keeps faith with the hectic energy and overlapping banter of classic screwball, even as it's forever devolving into a close study of desire and aspiration in a world that doesn't make either a cakewalk.

Bujalski is by nature digressive. He throws in some other characters, but mostly Results is a three-hander about the thrashings and sporadic collisions of three lonesome spirits who don't quite know they're looking for fulfillment. Kat's boss, Trevor (Guy Pearce, all pumped up), is a gung-ho small businessman who sincerely believes in his "wellness philosophy" and is looking to expand his premises with Kat as his top trainer. Trevor shares his bed with a massive dog and has an ambivalent sexual history with Kat, whose idea of courtship is "You wanna make out?"

Enter Danny, a flabby stoner played by the excellent Kevin Corrigan, who twitches and squirms and shoots a limb out at random, a man terminally uncomfortable in his body. His soul's not doing great either: Danny is undone both by a recent divorce and an inheritance that has made him a rich man overnight. With no idea of what to do with his money, Danny joins Trevor's gym though he doesn't really want to lose weight, randomly orders furniture for his cavernous home, kind of takes up with Kat, kind of makes friends with Trevor, kind of goes into business with both of them. Danny's slipcovers never come off, and the Spartan décor of his two new friends, for want of a better word, speaks similar volumes about what's missing in their own lives, to say nothing of the warped connection between love and money.

Results is very funny, but what's really wonderful is Bujalski's sympathy for his characters, for their aspirations and blind spots and irritating ways. In its goofy way, the movie is an admiring mash note to the earnest spirit of self-improvement that lies beneath all that daft gym-rat rhetoric, the urgent need to create a better me and so connect with a desired other when we're not even sure who that is.

As in all the best romantic comedies, there's never a doubt in our minds about who's right for whom in Results. They just have to get there themselves, and it's all between the lines of what's said and not said. In a key scene at a diner at the end, two lovers who have spent a deeply satisfying night together are having breakfast in a restaurant. They're brought up short when one of them launches into an entirely characteristic snit about an alleged error in the check. What follows sings an oldie but goodie about a necessary accommodation in grown-up love — the maddening, unreconstructed flaws we willingly put up with for the sake of all those other things we cherish in the beloved.

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