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And finally, a romantic comedy that isn’t stale

A still from Results.

f you don't know who Andrew Bujalski is, you couldn't be faulted for looking at descriptions or marketing for his new film, Results, and dismissing it as a run-of-the-mill faux-indie romantic comedy. It even features Cobie Smulders from How I Met Your Mother as one of the leads. But Bujalski is one of the originators of the mumblecore movement, and a filmmaker whose last movie, Computer Chess, was an anthropological glimpse into a fictional 1980s programming convention and shot on analogue video to boot. With its name-recognition stars and polished aesthetic, Results is certainly a lot more mainstream than that and it's not inaccurate to call it a rom-com. But categorising it as such is not an indictment. The rom-com genre takes the flak that it does because its most prominent examples have long tended to stick to stale, regressive templates. Bujalski manages to keep in mind that the genre is supposed to be, well, romantic and comedic. Results is both those things but, given that its maker is as astute an observer of human behaviour as they come, it actually manages to reverse-engineer those old templates even as it hearkens back to what they used to get right. If you think you can guess what's going to happen because of all the movies you've seen about love triangles, guess again.

That triangle is composed of Trevor (Guy Pearce), Aussie expat and owner of a gym in suburban Austin; Kat (Cobie Smulders), his star instructor with whom he has a casual sexual relationship; and Danny, a recently divorced and newly monied schlub who hires Kat as a trainer and proceeds to fall in love with her. At first, it seems like Danny will be the audience surrogate as the initial stretch of the film quickly adopts his perspective. The emotionally volatile Kat bursts into his (and our) consciousness like an explosion of adrenaline and Trevor, almost comically earnest about his New Age-y fitness philosophy, comes off like the slightly dim, absurdly buff obstacle for Danny to overcome on his way to getting the girl as per the usual rom-com beats. But Bujalski isn't playing that game and every time it feels like we're starting to figure out what's about to happen, he switches up his play. No one in this film is a stock type and, as the rich screenplay unfolds in various unpredictable directions, the three talented actors invest their characters with astonishing emotional range. It turns out that the sculpted Trevor is, in his own way, an underdog too, with his own entirely sympathetic hopes and dreams, and even more besotted with Kat than Danny is. Pearce, a former competitive bodybuilder, owns the physicality of the role but he's just as good at projecting Trevor's essential decency. Trevor genuinely wants to help people and it's a trait that complicates the film's relationship dynamics. A lesser writer-filmmaker would have left him in a negatively skewed adversarial role but you know something interesting is happening when you start feeling for the jock. For that matter, a lesser artist would have played the lonely Danny's emotional and sexual frustration as straightforwardly pathetic. Bujalski instead mines pathos from Danny's preoccupation with Kat. Playing her, Cobie Smulders delivers what might be a career-high performance. Fierce, insecure and a whole lot more complicated than either of the men, she holds a dark view of life and love, one that's at odds with the relatively stress-free and sunny milieu in which the film is set. She might be too much for both of them and they know it.

Also present and accounted for are other conventions frequently used by Hitchcock in particular and noir mysteries in general.with its spiritual predecessors is to do it a disservice. It has its own distinctive delights.

As much as it is about the rhythms and complications of love, and the anguish human beings experience trying to figure out their feelings for each other, Results is also about the awkwardness inherent to the lives of those who aren't preternaturally well adjusted (ie, most of us). Human existence is a constant negotiation — of space, of status, of social conventions. For all their physical perfection, neither Trevor nor Kat are comfortable in their own skins while balding, potbellied Danny turns out to be the one most open to personal growth. But the revelations come for all three characters, earned via individual chances to shine. There are, in fact, long stretches in which one or two of the leads get their time in the sun while the others disappear. The result feels almost experimental, a romance that's more interested in messy process than well-trodden paths to preordained kissing-in-the-rain conclusions. It's the perfect synergy between an unusually insightful script and an irresistible cast that knows a good thing when they see it.

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