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In 2013, writer/director Andrew Bujalski released Computer Chess, a singularly-textured piece of filmmaking about a bunch of programming nerds at a computer chess (duh) tournament in the early 80s. Formally, it was Bujalski’s strangest film to date: it was shot in purposefully flat black-and-white with obsolete tube cameras and had a pronounced penchant for loopy surrealism and discomfort comedy. Nonetheless, Computer Chess retained Bujalski’s incisiveness about the way awkward people interact with each other without making that very awkwardness the butt of the joke. This trend continues with the comparatively subdued but no less singular Results: though it’s a lot less superficially bizarre than its predecessor, it’s still no less sharp about interpersonal relationships and just as funny to boot.

The film is nominally about gym owner Trevor (Guy Pearce) and his personal/professional hangups, more than a few of which also involve fellow trainer/ex-fling Kat (Cobie Smulders). That premise alone would have been promising in Bujalski’s hands, but it soon becomes clear that he has other plans here. Enter Danny (Kevin Corrigan), the thin-haired, furrowed-brow Platonic ideal of contemporary American middle-aged shlubbiness. He is unkempt and paunchy, lives in a rented sparsely-“decorated” McMansion, and rocks out on a cherry red Gibson SG, the perfect symbol for someone making a desperate grab for coolness or relevance or personality or wasted youth. But above all else, he has so much money (inherited from a mother he was estranged from, natch) that he literally doesn’t know what to do with it all. The money he inherited, much like his previous marriage, his mostly-empty house, and his body, is transient. He ingests a heroic amount of takeout food, liquor and weed. He pays people 200 dollars (and hilariously, it always seems to be 200 dollars) to do things like set up his flat-screen TV and not drive home drunk. Corrigan, a veteran character actor and noted funny guy, effortlessly finds the hilarity and humanity in Danny, thereby grounding him and elevating him beyond “lackadaisical man-child in an American comedy” status into something more nuanced, where his character’s growth doesn’t feel cheap or forced. Each character has a similarly thoughtful arc: the desire to get better, whatever that might mean to them, is there, but the means are not.

In a way, Results is a comedy of crisis. Pearce and Corrigan embody opposite sides of late-40s male introspection, where the former decides to get mantric about being jacked as a path to wellness, and the latter just consumes himself into entropy. Smulders’ character starts off as a riff on type-A “romantic comedy” women, but with the important caveat that the situations and stakes are shrunk to fit Bujalski’s story. All three main characters are trying to improve themselves, often in vague and unsuccessful ways, and the film’s structure seems to give each character a chance to grow alongside another. The film’s first act pairs up Danny and Kat, and in doing so accomplishes in half an hour what most of Judd Apatow’s movies couldn’t pull off in 2+ hours, and then benefits from actually continuing for an hour. Act two pairs up Danny and Trevor, where they go from romantic rivals to unlikely friends (another refreshing change of pace from romantic triangle tropes), while the final act pairs up Kat and Trevor, setting up a satisfying, small-scale denouement that feels character-driven and organic in a way that many romantic comedies can’t quite nail down.

But more importantly in the greater scheme of things, Results is a beautiful-looking comedy, vividly shot and impeccably staged. There are sight gags and long takes and tons of robust, unostentatious camerawork that lets the scenes develop rather than crowd them. Supporting players like a Russian-accented Anthony Michael Hall as a rival trainer and Giovanni Ribsi as a Doc Sportello-esque business lawyer give the film’s outer edges some flair. There is even a full-on non-ironic montage sequence in this film, which while funny, doesn’t feel like a parody or a mockery. Tellingly, it feels like a natural outgrowth of both the characters themselves (in this case, Trevor’s earnest belief in the transformative power of working out and Danny’s willingness to through with it) and the film’s charmingly laid-back vibe. Ultimately, it isn’t the means by which you get better that matter most, but who you get better with. It’s a striking little character piece, human and heartfelt, and another feather in Bujalski’s cap.

Results is available on most VOD platforms, and will be available on DVD on September 21st.

Directed by Andrew Bujalski; written by Andrew Bujalski; starring Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan, Giovanni Ribisi, Brookyln Decker, and Anthony Michael Hall; 105 minutes.