“Results” begins as a scattershot satire of hyper-intense trainers, but eventually gives way to an unexpectedly sweet romantic comedy. But this droll, intelligent farce is most poignant as a portrait of modern alienation that explores how money, service work and self-improvement leave individuals stranded and alone.
The trainer-trainee relationship can be awfully intimate, which is probably what Danny (Kevin Corrigan) hopes for when he signs up for two years of one-on-one sessions — in his house. The disheveled divorcé tells gym owner Trevor (Guy Pearce in his native Aussie accent), “I want to learn how to take a punch,” a wonderfully evocative line that suggests he’s either been the victim of a beatdown before, or he got stoned one night and thought it’d be neat to buy himself a new tough-guy exterior.
Back in his Austin mansion, Danny’s just pathetic. For company, he offers $200 on Craigslist to someone to come over and turn on his TV. If he intended the post as the world’s most obvious pay-for-sex ad, he doesn’t show his disappointment when a skinny nerd in hipster glasses shows up at his door. Danny’s much more enthused to see his new trainer, Kat (Cobie Smulders) — too enthused, actually, after they recklessly spend a night together and she perceives that he wants to start paying her to be his girlfriend for $100 per hour, whatever that might entail.
Training is a far cry from prostitution, but Kat’s clients, including Danny, still make her feel like her profession’s less than dignified. Tall and judgmental, she aspires to authority — we meet her sprinting after one of her clients to scold her for eating a cupcake — but working for people who can afford her rates means putting up with their condescension, too. Though she’s the least developed of the central trio, Kat’s also the most sympathetic character, in no small part due to Smulders’ tart, wounded performance.
The transition from satire to love story is a tricky one, and writer-director Andrew Bujalski (“Computer Chess,” “Funny Ha Ha”) fumbles most with Trevor, who takes over as Danny’s trainer after Kat quits her job in a huff after one too many run-ins with jerk clients. The two men become friends until their rivalry for Kat’s (unreturned) affections yanks them apart. It doesn’t help that Danny casually jeopardizes Trevor’s grand but risky plans to open a bigger and shinier gym/spa/juice bar/soul-slimming center.
Both Danny and Trevor are pitifully deluded tragicomic figures who attempt to live up to ridiculous standards: Danny has arbitrary ideas about what other rich people do and say, while Trevor spouts tasty but empty fast-food philosophies like, “Always go forward.” Though Trevor’s not as out-of-touch as one of his colleagues, who hilariously dispenses kettlebells as dinner-party favors, he remains a bulked-out buffoon, and so the romantic turn in the film’s third act doesn’t quite convince.
Neither does the depiction of gym rats as sex-obsessed rage-a-holics ring true. Bujalski’s script does boast lots of smart, sad observations about how both money and self-improvement can lead to isolation. But the characters, while far from broad, aren’t very focused, either. This is a prickly, spiky film I wanted to like much more than I did. “Results” doesn’t quite achieve the goals it sets for itself, but it’s still worth the effort.