If you want a cinematic demonstration of just how much Austin has changed over the last quarter-century, try a side-by-side study of Richard Linklater’s Slacker (the sine qua non of Austin movies) and Results, the latest from independent writer/director Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha; Mutual Appreciation), which is now available on video on demand.
Back in 1991, when Slacker was released, Austin was still a cultural frontier town, an inexpensive, sleepy hamlet filled with casual philosophers and artists. Linklater’s heroes weren’t particularly interested in getting anywhere or achieving anything; for them, meandering through the city was an end to itself. It was a world of street corners and coffee shops and dive bars, and none was an unlikely venue in which to search for enlightenment.
The world of Results couldn’t be more different. Gone are the secondhand bookstores and aimless strolls, replaced by gated communities, cavernous fitness centers and McMansions. Aimlessness in this Austin isn’t an opportunity for discovery; it’s a sin, proof of lacking character and ambition. And the only philosophy worth anything is the mantra of the fitness guru: perfection through discipline, happiness through effort, self-betterment at any cost.
Guy Pearce plays Trevor, a fitness trainer, gym proprietor and creator of the Power 4 Life self-improvement system, which promises physical, mental and emotional growth all in one product. With his chiseled body and near-religious belief in the life-changing power of squats and paleo diets, Trevor is equal parts philosopher, huckster, evangelist and lost soul. When a jaded, wayward, soft-bellied millionaire named Danny (who could be one of Linklater’s wanderers gone to seed in middle age) shows up at the gym looking for a personal trainer, Trevor assigns him to Kat (Cobie Smulders), whose motivational skills and personal discipline barely mask her hatred of human imperfection. In no time at all, Danny has fallen for her, as has Trevor.
That two such flawed men would become so enamored of someone so intolerant of flaws is one of the mysteries of Results. Perhaps Trevor and Danny are compelled by the thought of being with someone who is just as contemptuous as they are of the things they hate about themselves. Or maybe they’re just so desperate for human connection that they’ll take it wherever they can get it. The only thing that’s clear is that between Danny’s self-loathing and Trevor’s devotion to the Impossible Perfect, they’ve managed to strangle any sense of possibility out of their lives, and only love seems like it could unclench their paralysis. Add Kat’s war on emotional messiness and imperfection and you’ve got three people painfully ill-quipped to deal with the exigencies of human relationships. Adrift, Danny smokes pot to approximate emotion while Trevor and Kat treat life as a series of “acts of wellness.” Trevor calls being in love “using the heart muscle,” for example, and Kat routinely eats protein bars instead of meals. In their world, there’s no problem, no matter how deep-seated, that can’t be solved with effort, will, dietary discipline and a proactive vocabulary. Theirs is a gospel of self-control.
Results, in other words, is about a modern-day love triangle, three imperfect people grasping not just for romance, but for meaning. That premise is full of possibilities, which is why it’s so disappointing that it never quite coheres. After establishing the trio as a neurotic mass of post-millennial disappointment, the film proceeds to spin off into improbability, jumping from one subplot to another without any apparent rhyme or reason. This is strange considering that Bujalski, affectionately known as the King of Mumblecore, made his reputation scorning contrivance and helping to ignite the current craze for naturalism in American indie film.
Bujalski’s heroes are so emotionally detached and desperate for human connection that they flail from scenario to scenario looking for an island to land on. Maybe that’s the point. Unlike the heroes of Slacker, who were content with the search for meaning, and whose lives unfolded on a seemingly endless, undifferentiated, timeless thread, Trevor, Kat and Danny are too wrapped up in answers and destinations to see where they’re going, or why. Maybe this is what happens when you stop seeking and start subscribing to a philosophy of “wellness.” Take heed, Austin.