Excess wealth has always been a rich topic for comedy because the power to act on any material whim tends to expose and even foreground people’s foibles. Rollo Treadway, the lonely millionaire played by Buster Keaton in The Navigator (1924), is so spoiled he gets his chauffeur to ferry him to a house across the street. In the Depression-era fantasy If I Had a Million (1932), W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth, whose treasured automobile has been totaled by a road hog, use a sudden financial windfall to buy a fleet of cars and purposely smash them into the autos of inconsiderate drivers. Even sophisticated comedies milk this idea: in Born Yesterday (1950), a millionaire junk dealer hires a journalist to turn his gum-cracking mistress into a Washington socialite. Wealth is more concentrated than ever now, which means the comedy of buying power still packs a mighty punch: just this spring the wacky Welcome to Me starred Kristen Wiig as a bipolar woman who wins $86 million in the lottery and decides to launch her own self-obsessive TV talk show.
For years indie filmmaker Andrew Bujalski has been making great movies (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation, Computer Chess) with very little money at all; for his latest feature, Results, he has a bigger budget and four higher-profile actors who slip easily into his funky, semi-improvised storytelling. The invaluable Kevin Corrigan plays Danny, a rich, lovelorn slob who has moved into a rented McMansion around Austin, Texas. Shortly after Danny and his wife divorced, he inherited a fortune from his estranged mother, and now he has more money than he knows what to do with. He shows up at a local fitness center, looking for a personal trainer, and after meeting Kat (the lithe Cobie Smulders), he fires off a check for $25,000 to cover two years. So begins a low-boiling tale of intrigue that will also pull in her clueless hunk of a boss, Trevor (Guy Pearce), and Danny’s pot-smoking attorney, Paul (Giovanni Ribisi).
Danny is learning to enjoy a life of instant gratification—when he can’t get a picture on his TV, he calls up a friend and offers him $200 to rush over and connect the cable box. He is instantly smitten when Kat shows up at his house for their first workout session; at their second he invites her to stay afterward for some weed and bourbon, and Kat—whose go-getter persona can barely conceal her own insecurities—winds up having sex with her doughy client. (“No disrobing, OK?” she instructs him.) For the third session she shows up hoping to restore their professional relationship, but Danny has hired a famous chef to cook for them and sits her down at the dinner table with a local jazz combo serenading them. A stunt like that might work in the movies, but Kat flips out: “You have got to be the worst rich guy ever! . . . You don’t know what to do with your money. Oh, boo-fucking-hoo, Danny! Give it to charity. Give it to cancer research, and go get cancer!” For good measure, she knocks him on his ass before storming off.
In a more formulaic comedy, Danny would have to learn that money isn’t everything, but in Results every character eventually succumbs to the ease of his wealth. When Trevor learns about Danny’s romantic come-on to Kat, he appears at Danny’s door to read him the riot act, but before long he too is hanging out at the mansion, drinking and smoking pot. For years he’s dreamed of expanding his business into a holistic health center with meditation and mental health therapy and whatnot, and Danny becomes a willing investor, putting up half the cash for a yawning new facility. By that time Kat has burned out on fitness training, quit her job, and moved to Dallas, though both men still yearn for her; in fact their fragile partnership would probably crumble if Danny knew that she and Trevor used to be lovers.
Interviewed by the website Metro, Bujalski was candid about his motivation for using stars this time around: “Maybe I could get paid five figures? I have two kids and I have a mortgage. . . . I hate it when I see people in this situation who don’t admit they have to make money. So I have to say it. I’m trying to compensate for everyone who doesn’t say it.” Results ends with a goofy sequence in which Danny, persuaded by Kat to scale down his romantic ambitions, strolls into a local sorority house, announces that he’s a multimillionaire (but not “a douchebag”), and invites the sisters over to his place for a beer blast. All the other characters show up to dance to the jazz combo from the earlier scene, and the credits roll as they boogie down. It’s a decidedly light ending, but Results says as much about its era as any of its forerunners did: with the deck stacked against the little guy, sucking up to some fat cat may be your only salvation. v