A healthy body does not always make for a healthy spirit in Andrew Bujalski’s “Results,” a wry relationship comedy about a team of personal trainers, their clients and their shared desire for progress in and out of the gym. The fifth feature for the Austin-based Bujalski, and his first made with professional actors, “Results” is less of a departure for the writer-director than it might initially seem, as he once again homes in on a group of socially awkward characters taking baby steps toward maturity and (maybe) happiness. Acquired by Magnolia Pictures before its Sundance premiere, this delightfully low-key affair won’t pump major box-office iron, but will easily be seen by more people than Bujalski’s first four features combined, which is a very good result indeed.
A movie about personal trainers is one of the last things anyone would have expected from Bujalski, whose proto-mumblecore early films (“Funny Ha Ha” and “Mutual Appreciation”) revolved around the lives of adrift, post-collegiate intellectuals, and whose ingenious, lo-fi mockumentary “Computer Chess” (2013), was like a “Spinal Tap” for the pocket-protector crowd. But it’s clear from early on in “Results” that, while Bujalski’s latest characters may be gainfully employed and physically fit, inside they’re just as lonely and confused as ever. In the case of Danny (Kevin Corrigan), he’s a wreck inside and out — a shlubby, recently divorced New Yorker who arrives in Austin to claim his late mother’s inheritance and quickly embarks on a lifestyle of privileged excess, shuffling around his large, unfurnished McMansion like a beer-bellied Gatsby.
Motivated by some vague notion of getting in shape — or, as he puts it, learning how to take a punch — Danny pays an impromptu visit to the Power 4 Life gym, where enthusiastic proprietor Trevor (Guy Pearce) signs him up for a training package. His trainer will be Kat (Cobie Smulders), Power 4 Life’s most popular staffer, if also its most high-strung: We first see her sprinting through a suburban neighborhood to accost a client who’s fallen behind on her payments. Trevor initially hesitates on assigning Kat to Danny, worried that the wild-haired stranger might some kind of pervert or psycho, but Kat eventually wins that argument — the typical outcome, it seems, whenever she and Trevor (who used to be a couple) tussle.
After a couple of introductory sessions in his hilariously over-equipped home gym, Danny realizes he’s more interested in Kat’s firm flesh than his own, and at first the feeling seems mutual. But when he makes his big, hopeless-romantic move (complete with candlelit dinner and jazz band), she recoils in commitment-phobic horror. Trevor, meanwhile, wants to take Power 4 Life to the next level, scoping out a bigger, higher-profile location that he dreams will bring him one step close to becoming his idol: the snarling Russian “kettle bell master” Grigory (Anthony Michael Hall, channeling Dolph Lundgren). And while he clearly still pines for Kat, Trevor worries about mixing business with pleasure, and contents himself (though not really) by crawling into bed at night with his slobbering pet dog.
Bujalski, who started out in movies seeming like the love-child of John Cassavetes and French director Jean Eustache (whose marathon 1973 talkfest “The Mother and the Whore” is an acknowledged influence), has more recently tilted in the direction of Altmanesque group portraiture, and “Results” furthers the trend. It gives off a warmly inviting glow. Once he’s worked through the basic setup, Bujalski puts the plot on the back burner and lets his characters collide and ricochet off one another with a laconic comic grace. Everyone’s hung up on someone or something in “Results,” a longing usually aided and abetted by the Internet (where Danny drools over YouTube videos of Kat’s shapely thighs while Trevor makes a close study of Grigory’s personal brand). As opposed to most romantic comedies, the characters don’t learn to love each other so much as they learn to like themselves.
Bujalski wrote “Results” with specific actors in mind, and the roles fit them as snugly as spandex leotards. Pearce, a former competitive bodybuilder in his native Australia (and still in visibly excellent shape), has just the right mantra-spouting, self-actualizing mania common to those in the fitness trade, while Smulders (“How I Met Your Mother”) makes an excellent foil as the hyper-intense Kat, who seems to run her life according to the philosophy that there’s plenty of time to rest when you’re dead (once, fittingly, the actual slogan of an L.A. gym chain). But the high-energy boost in Bujalski’s protein shake comes from Corrigan, an invaluable side man in American indie movies for the last 25 years who has only occasionally (as in 2009’s “Big Fan”) had a role this keyed-in to his highly particular, zonked-out rhythms and faintly menacing stoner-shaman air. His Danny starts out the movie as the person least likely to succeed and ends up as the one most capable of effecting change, for himself and others — a flabby Cupid in the land of Adonis.