It could be easy for Columbus, a quiet introspective American indie drama, to get lost in the shuffle between this week’s two big releases A Star is Born and Venom. However, this reviewer implores true film fans to seek out this gem as it is exactly the type of movie people claim there is not enough of – a mature adult drama, a well-told story that subverts expectations, an exploration of the power of art itself, as well as most importantly, an emotionally affecting tale that will stay with viewers long after the credits roll.
Set in Columbus, Indiana – a sleepy town which also happens to be the forefront of American architecture – Haley Lu Richardson (The Edge of Seventeen, Split) stars as Casey, a smart young librarian. While all her peers have left the area to attend college, she has stayed to take care of her single mother (Michelle Forbes), a recovering addict.
Meanwhile, the older Jin (the great John Cho, having a killer year between this, Gemini and Searching) arrives into town. Having lived in Korea as a translator for most of his adult life, he has been called by his step-mother (Parker Posey) because his estranged father – an architecture heavyweight – has gone into a coma. Both trapped in Columbus, Casey and Jin strike up a relationship, built around her showing him the area’s modernist buildings.
Critic turned director Koganada brings the same love of cinema he brought to his video essays on other acclaimed filmmakers to his debut feature. With architecture representing art, the film asks what role art plays in the grand scheme of things. It pits Jin, someone who is cynical about architecture having been taught to analyse it solely from an academic perspective, with Casey, a younger bright-eyed person who became interested in the field as a way to escape her difficult home-life.
This could be either completely dull and navel gazing or overly preachy. Yet, Koganada avoids both. His script is stripped-back, with any of the film’s messages being weaved subtly into its always authentic sounding dialogue. It also helps that his two leads are so naturalistic. Together, the two convey both the awkwardness of their tentative relationship but also an unspoken affection – a force which continuously pulls them together.
Columbus delights in not being the movie one thinks it is. For example, whereas one predicts its a film about a older downtrodden man who finds a new lease of life from a younger woman, it’s in fact more of Casey’s story – her being the more developed character.
Meanwhile, the drama hints of a potential romance between the two but it never happens. That said, it’s never undramatic. Instead, what Casey and Jin share is a deeper, more moving platonic connection – two people of radically different backgrounds who come together, the impact of which changing their lives both for the better. As people across the world seem increasingly divided, Columbus with its message of fraternity and the power of art is a breath of fresh air in 2018.