It’s turn out to be a mortifying cliché to name the setting of a film “one of many characters.” (That goes double if the setting is New York Metropolis.) So say this as an alternative for Columbus: Its setting is each bit as essential as its characters. True to its title, this mild and infrequently fairly beautiful American drama takes place solely within the small Midwestern metropolis of Columbus, Indiana, the place it was shot. Columbus’ declare to fame is modernist structure. You may guess as a lot watching the movie on mute. Spired church buildings, oddly formed convention facilities, skyways stretching photogenically in opposition to precise skies: Buildings dominate this film. Even when the persons are the principle focus of a shot, there’s often some marvel of glass and metal looming behind them or poking into the body. And even when the digicam plops down indoors, it captures a variety of structure: the library bookshelves shot to appear like rows of condo complexes, or the designer chairs that might match snugly right into a futuristic skyline.
No, Columbus isn’t a personality in Columbus. However it’s a subject of dialog for the characters. Jin (John Cho) has come all the best way from Seoul to see his estranged father, a famend architect who’s fallen immediately right into a coma. Budding “structure nerd” Casey (Break up’s Haley Lu Richardson) is a latest highschool graduate who works on the native library, terrified to depart for faculty out of concern that her recovering meth-addict mom (Michelle Forbes) will relapse in her absence. Drawn to one another’s loneliness, the 2 strike up a dialogue over bummed cigarettes and find yourself spending just a few days, on and off, wandering town—Casey waxing poetic about her favourite buildings whereas they each discuss and across the parental points maintaining them planted on this mecca for modernism.
There’s a contact of Richard Linklater, he of the ambulatory two-handers, and in addition of Jem Cohen, whose Museum Hours requested comparable questions on our relationship to artwork and historical past, in these digressive discussions. That is smart, as Columbus is the primary characteristic by Kogonada, a video essayist and movie critic with a deep effectively of influences (together with Linklater—he made a tribute to the director that ended up on the latest Criterion Earlier than-trilogy boxset.) A variety of promising debuts put on their inspirations on their sleeve, however Kogonada has refined tastes. Adopting a method extra harking back to up to date Asian movie than the common American indie, cinematographer Elisha Christian captures Columbus and its residents in static, rigorously framed large pictures, typically shrinking the actors in proximity to placing constructions, different instances simply leaving them out of the body solely. It makes for a number of the most tranquilly beautiful imagery of the 12 months: a smitten sightseer’s view of town.
As a movie by a movie critic, Columbus is usually self-aware to a fault. It typically acknowledges and acknowledges its personal flaws; when Casey’s city trivia begins to resemble the rehearsed patter of a tour information, Jin calls out the artificiality of the dialogue. There are moments when the folks onscreen appear to be writing aloud the evaluation of the film they’re in: “Are we dropping curiosity in on a regular basis life?” asks Casey’s co-worker and potential beau, and solely Rory Culkin’s pitch-perfect supply of the speech retains it from touchdown like a blatant mission assertion. Nonetheless, there’s an unmistakable private dimension to the infinite chatter about what strikes these characters and why. Like Jin, Kogonada was born in Seoul and later discovered his approach to the Midwest, however Casey is the clearer onscreen surrogate—somebody consistently working to sq. her rising information of structure together with her difficult private emotions about it. Type of like a critic, no?
Even when it does sound like one thing you’d learn in a metropolis information, the store speak is a welcome accent. It makes a slender, maybe overly acquainted story—a platonic romance between two folks operating in place—really feel a bit of extra distinctive. The casting helps so much with that, too. Cho, in a too-rare main function, delivers the form of delicate efficiency that’s at all times banged on the lid of his franchise work. (He by no means will get the credit score he deserves for making Harold of Harold & Kumar an actual particular person, irrespective of how wacky the hijinks erupting round him get.) And Richardson, graduating to a grown-up headlining function after a run of supporting turns as highschool children, places an appealingly mellow spin on post-adolescent nervousness, that paralysis earlier than the scary headlong leap into maturity. The 2 have a laid-back chemistry, a straightforward melancholy communion, that stops Columbus from ever feeling too educational. Come for the breathtaking architectural surroundings, keep for the likable pair staring up at it.