Director Andrew Bujalski on Reinventing the Romantic Comedy With His New Film ‘Results’
With his new film Results, director Andrew Bujalski is reinvigorating the romantic comedy by using his clever and thoughtful independent approach.
Best known for his mumblecore masterworks like Mutual Appreciation, Funny Ha Ha, and most recently his analog ’80s gem Computer Chess, director Andrew Bujalski’s latest film marks his largest production yet—pairing his directorial skill with some of Hollywood best talent. Starring Kevin Corrigan (in a career-high performance), Cobie Smulders, and Guy Pearce, Results has all the exterior attraction of a conventional rom-com, but within minutes lets you know that you’re in for a movie that feels distinctly its own.
Set in the brightly-colored and mansion-filled world of Austin, Texas fitness trainers and their well-to-do clients, Results centers on Danny (Corrigan), a depressed, newly-divorced, and recently wealthy man. Out of boredom and the desire to take a punch without falling down he decides to join a gym, and there he meets gym owner and fitness guru Trevor (Pearce) and begins training with the sharp-tongued and fiery Kat (Smulders). As we noted in our interviews with Smulders & Pearce and Corrigan, what makes Results so enjoyable is how well Bujalski’s “clever and subtly comic writing” is “married with the sincere performances from its cast.” We observe as their three lives entwine, as Bujalski “gives plenty of room for the characters to veer off into idiosyncratic and strange tangents, while offering an interesting look at the intersection of depression and self-fulfillment.”
With the film currently playing at IFC Center, we sat down with Bujalski to chat more about transitioning from Computer Chess to Results, the rare casting of Kevin Corrigan and Guy Pearce in the same film, and making his own version of Bergman’s Persona.
Coming off Computer Chess, did you have in mind that your next film would be totally different and on a much larger scale?
Anything I’ve ever done is digging into some kind of core element and throwing a lot of elements against the wall to see what sticks and then trying to tease out what makes sense or what fits. In this case, two and a half years ago I was finishing up Computer Chess and was about to take that to Sundance. I’d never been to Sundance before and people were scaring me and saying that if I was going to Sundance I’d to have my next thing ready to pitch. So I thought, fuck, next thing? We’re still finishing this one. So I sat in a coffee shop with my notebook, and I figured it was probably a good idea for me to get around to making a movie with professional actors, which was something I figured I’d always get around to in this lifetime. For me I’d gotten very accustomed to working with non-professionals, and it’s certainly a comfort zone for me, I felt like I knew how to work in vein. Professionals was a different deal and something I needed to figure out. I started just sitting down thinking, who am I talking about, what is this.
I thought of Kevin, who I’ve been a fan of for 20 years and been friendly with for the last few years. He’s just somebody that I’ve always wanted to work with. I thought of Guy, who I had a breakfast meeting with a few years earlier and I’ve always been a great fan of his as well and found him pretty fascinating. Already I was amusing myself with the idea of these two guys sharing the same movie. They have such different flavors, and the more I thought about it the more I felt like there was maybe some surprising subliminal overlap between them. There was some reason why they were fitting together in my mind. I wasn’t quite sure what that was, but it was the process of trying to tease that out that led me to this story.
Pretty early on I figured that if I have these two guys who for everything they don’t have in common are both very internal actors and actors who I love to watch because I lean forward in my seat to try and figure them out, then I need another element. I needed to put a woman between then who will be warm but also explosive. So I started to craft that character without knowing who would play it. I couldn’t feel more blessed to have found Cobie to bring that to life and really complete that picture.
Had you been a fan of her other work in television and film?
Cobie is mostly in things that are hugely successful, therefore I was completely ignorant of it. I hadn’t seen How I Met Your Mother and I hadn’t seen The Avengers. I watch some YouTube clips so we did a little Skype conversation and I was very charmed by her and you just get a feeling. I went out to LA and I got a friend to come run a scene with her and we did a little screen test. Again, such a pleasure, we did one take just ran through a scene and during take one I was thinking to myself, I want to look professional here so I’ll give some direction and did a second take but I knew in the middle of take one that this could work and that was really exciting.
Did the script build more from your desire to see these actors together or from the concept of setting it in the fitness world?
Like any subculture it’s rich with personalities and its own politics. I don’t like it when I go to see a movie and I’m seeing some golden god Hollywood star cast as the down on their luck Hollywood schlub. I just don’t believe it. So I thought okay, if I’m going to do a movie with beautiful people wouldn’t it be nice if I could just let them be beautiful people? The trainers thing just made sense to me. The insecurities and the challenges of the actors’ life had a fair amount of overlap with the trainers’ lives, so that was kind of funny to me, but I also thought there was good material there.
Considering your last film was an analog, black-and-white throwback and this film is very much alive in the present moment, how did you go about approaching the aesthetic?
We wanted it to be aesthetically it had to be very much of the moment. It’s the first movie I’ve done with contemporary equipment instead of me reaching back to outdated 20th century stuff. I was trying to embrace the 20th century, which is not my usual visual way of working. But this was an interesting experiment, and it had to be pretty and poppy, but it also not too clean. The cinematographer and the production designer and I talked a lot about how so much of Austin has becoming so many of these nice, manicured environments. It’s where the flagship of Whole Foods is, so we wanted this very Whole Foods design but imperfections at the edges, as is life. That seemed like a fair enough metaphor for what these characters are going through. They can optimize a lot of their environments, but there will always be cracks in the optimization and things falling apart.
Although it has the veneer of a conventional romantic comedy, the film gives every character an equal amount of weight, which defies those genre tropes.
I need every character to have some kind of internal life. Even if its a very minor character that we’re not really going to get to know, I still want there to be a person there whose motivations make internal sense. But with specific regard to this script, I knew I was writing that wouldn’t pass muster in rom-com 101 because it’s not obvious who the protagonist is—but that was important to me. It was one of those things where I would bang my head against the wall and say, well this is a weird challenging structure. We were borrowing a lot of the energy of traditional romantic comedy, but it’s not the same machine that the conventional romantic comedy. This is about both the differences and the similarities between these people, which led me back to the road I was on in the first place. I was trying to dream up roles for Kevin and Guy and thinking, here are two guys that have so many surface dissimilarities but are kind of the same guy. In a weird way I felt like I was making my version of Bergman’s Persona.
Do you have a favorite Kevin Corrigan performance?
The moment I become a Corrigan mega fan was in 1996 when Walking and Talking came out. I distinctly remember sitting in that theater and the movie ending and the credits coming up and me thinking, okay I’ve got to find out what that guy’s name is because he’s my favorite actor. I’ve followed his career since, and I met him because we have a mutual friend and we actually acted together in one scene, so we’ve kept in touch since then.
Did you find you’ve had to change as a director going from your previous films to Results — now working Hollywood actors and managing a larger crew?
My philosophy walking in the door was different, yet the job is kind of the same. It’s just all about listening to people and trying to give people room to do great work and then stand back and take credit for it. I feel like more than half of my job is taking credit for it. My first movie had a five person crew, and on Results it was now its like 40 people, so anywhere we go now we’re an occupying army, you can’t help it. It’s efficient, it’s organized but it’s also kind of scary. There’s more to do with delegation and less to do with getting my hands dirty, which is not an adjustment. Part of me thinks I’m better suited to the getting my hands dirty thing, and yet I still feel like it’s my movie. But when does it get so big that the process is directing itself and it’s not yours? If I ever got to that point my ego would deflate, and I don’t now, that’s probably when you start throwing tantrums to prove that you’re in charge.