“Funny Ha Ha” and “Computer Chess” director Andrew Bujalski brings an unexpected, loose, jangly energy to the surprisingly successful “Results,” a romantic comedy that stars Cobie Smulders, Guy Pearce and Kevin Corrigan. With structural echoes that recall the timeless “Broadcast News,” “Results” is one of those films that shouldn’t work and wouldn’t work with a major studio and more reliably bankable faces. Recast this film with rom-com staples, rewrite just a bit, and film it in a style more common to the genre and you’d have a nearly unbearable film. It’s remarkable how much just a few key decisions can swing a romantic comedy from disaster to success. “Results” is one of the best rom-coms of the last few years, as Bujalski grounds his characters in unpredictable yet believable ways. We go on their journey with them because we like them, and we like them because Bujalski doesn’t force us to like them.
Danny (Corrigan) is a schlubby millionaire who has no idea what to do with his new-found fortune. He inherited millions right after getting divorced. He roams around his barely-furnished mansion, playing guitar, getting stoned and paying people to come over and plug his TV in the right way. He goes to hire a personal trainer, not out of any precise desire to get in better shape but because it’s just what people with money do. At “Power 4 Life,” he meets two people who will change his life, the cynical-and-tough Kat (Smulders) and her boss Trevor (Pearce). Kat is a witty, acerbic, gorgeous woman and Danny gets a little obsessed with her, even offering to pay for his training sessions for a whole year in advance. Meanwhile, Trevor has been fascinated with his best-but-most-troublemaking employee for years now.
And yet that description might make “Results” sound like more of a traditional love-triangle-rom-com than it actually is. It’s a film that floats along, taking plot machinations that would be underlined with pop music montages and melodramatic monologues in Hollywood films and presenting them as simple twists of character’s fates. Danny, Kat, and Trevor are not the same at the end of “Results” as they are at the beginning, and yet their trajectories feel organic and genuine. It’s hard to explain how rare that is. What’s missing most of all from romantic comedies is truth. I believed every minute of “Results.”
A large part of that is due to the clear skill that Bujalski has with actors. Smulders has never been nearly this good. She was always fine on “How I Met Your Mother,” but she goes much deeper here, sketching a fully-rounded character in just a few scenes. Kat is tough but also a bit needy. She likes ordering people around but doesn’t like it when they screw her over. And it’s so great to see Pearce in a role where he’s not trying to kill people. He’s immensely likable here. All of the supporting cast, which includes Giovanni Ribisi and Brooklyn Decker as well, works—a credit to Bujalski’s direction and style.
The final act of “Results” gets a little funky. Some scenes feel almost out of order, and the tone of the film fluctuates a bit too sporadically. One minute, it’s rising to a climax and end, the next it’s kind of meandering. This could be a product of Bujalski not really being a filmmaker interested in the narrative requirements of a more traditional film than he’s used to making, or it could be thematically consistent with a piece about people not really sure where they’re going or how to get there. Either way, it’s a minor frustration for one of the most surprisingly enjoyable comedies of Sundance 2015.