Somebody needs to give Andrew Bujalski a TV series. If “Results,” his unlikely but delightful new film set in and around an Austin fitness studio run by hard-bodied Guy Pearce, were a TV pilot, I would be hooked on the show already. Of course I still value the distinctive and immersive power of cinema, and not every indie filmmaker is auditioning for Showtime and HBO. But at this point the small screen might be a useful container for Bujalski, a peripatetic writer-director who’s been flirting with some version of crossover success – and then turning his back on it again – since his deadpan no-budget hipster satires of the early-to-mid-2000s, “Mutual Appreciation” and “Funny Ha Ha.”
If you haven’t heard of Bujalski, that both is and isn’t your fault. He’s been out there making distinctive and highly watchable films, entirely on his own schedule, for some time. But as I think he would admit, he lacks the killer instinct for self-marketing found in the most driven indie auteurs, and although you can certainly spin out common themes in his films, they aren’t easily confined to a niche or described with a critical neologism. (I’m not going to mention the doomed and derided movement once known as “mumblecore,” except I just did.) “Results” is a romantic comedy, more or less, and it may strike some of his hardcore fans as a mainstream sellout move. But there seriously are not enough of them for that to matter, and anyway that isn’t fair.
After its own unexpected and light-hearted fashion, “Results” is as subversive as Bujalski’s other films. Yes, I called it a rom-com, and that’s accurate enough, but it’s a love story full of twists and turns, one that tempts us toward incorrect conclusions and deliberately avoids revealing its true heart. Anyway, after making the marvelous but almost unmarketable “Computer Chess,” which was shot entirely with 1980s video technology and captured an embryonic state of pre-Internet geekdom, Bujalski doesn’t need more punch-holes in his coolness card. “Results” is more recognizably a movie by the guy who made the 2009 “Beeswax,” which was mature and wise and funny and almost totally ignored.
That movie was set within the aging-boho commercial world of Austin, Bujalski’s hometown, and “Results” pushes well beyond that, into realms of American and Austinite normalcy that would typically only appear in an indie film as objects of ridicule. Indeed, Trevor, the profoundly sincere Aussie fitness guru played by Pearce, does appear to be a figure of fun at first. We see him through the eyes of Danny (played by the wonderful character actor Kevin Corrigan), a divorced and depressed New Yorker who finds himself adrift in Austin with too much money and too much time on his hands. Trevor makes inspirational videos in front of those ornamental fountains found at the entrances to office parks. His business is called Power4Life, because Trevor firmly believes he is helping his clients grow in body and mind and spirit – and, um, in whatever that fourth thing may be – and has very little sense that other people may see such a declaration as bullshit New Age salesmanship.
It takes a while for Trevor to grow on us, given his perfect bod, perfect teeth, perfect tan and middling intellectual capacity. But the magic of Pearce’s performance leads us toward the fact that Trevor is utterly committed to helping others, unlike about 99 percent of his fellow human beings, and that if he believes in his own spiel this much, it’s probably working for some people at least some of the time. But I’ve gotten ahead of the movie a little bit here: Trevor’s staff at Power4Life includes a killer-handsome African-American guy called Lorenzo (Tishuan Scott) who is described by his co-workers as a “bisexual gigolo,” and in the non-forthcoming TV series we would learn a lot more about him. But his best trainer is Kat, a hotheaded young woman whose conditioning rivals Trevor’s own, but whose attitude toward life, love and associated phenomena is far darker. She’s played by Cobie Smulders, of “How I Met Your Mother” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” in a performance whose paint-blistering intensity is ever so slightly, and hilariously, at odds with the low-stakes suburban realm around her.
I really shouldn’t tell you too much more, except that as always Bujalski has a marvelous feeling for rhythms: The rhythms of pop music, the rhythms of conversation, the rhythms of when and where a scene should stop and most certainly the unpredictable rhythms of love, hard-bodied and otherwise. Danny wants to get in shape under the demanding tutelage of Kat, at least partly because he’s into her but for understandable reasons believes he’s got no shot. Perhaps only Bujalski could shoot a scene of a balding, middle-aged guy watching videos of an attractive younger woman flexing her butt – and so clearly find the pathos, sadness and humanity in it.
But it’s actually Kat who ends up putting the moves on Danny, for reasons of her own, which launches us into a shaggy-dog narrative that involves multiple midnight misunderstandings, way too much pot smoking, a tortuous real estate deal no one can understand (which may bring Trevor’s expansion dreams to fruition, or may ruin him) and a West Texas road trip to visit a Russian kettle-bell guru who preaches a gospel of pain. Everyone gets a moment of glory in this irresistible tale, including Corrigan’s shlubby, damaged, self-disliking Danny, who ultimately challenges himself not merely to be decent and realistic but even to be noble. Trevor’s example of semi-Christlike, slightly dim and massively buffed service to others is irresistible, and “Results” are indeed attained. Still, without the TV show to follow, his saga doesn’t feel quite complete.
“Results” opens this week in New York, Toronto and Austin, Texas. It opens June 5 in Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Calif., Seattle and Washington; June 12 in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Miami, Palm Springs, Calif., Salt Lake City, San Diego, Santa Fe, N.M., Tucson, Ariz., and Boise, Idaho; and June 19 in Cleveland, Eugene, Ore., St. Louis and Winston-Salem, N.C., with more cities to follow. It’s also available on demand this week from cable and satellite providers, and coming soon to Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, VUDU and YouTube.