"COLUMBUS" — 3 stars — John Cho, Parker Posey, Haley Lu Richardson, Michelle Forbes, Rory Culkin; not rated; Broadway
“Columbus” is a deliberately paced and quiet drama from director Kogonada that tells the story of a pair of strangers who cross paths in an Indiana town and form a mutual friendship.
Before “Columbus” rolls its opening titles, we see a lone professor collapse on a dreary Ohio campus in a light rainstorm. The collapse brings together two strangers on very different paths in life. Jin (John Cho) is the professor’s estranged son, who has been working in South Korea translating books from English into Korean. When he returns to see his father in the hospital, he reconnects with Eleanor (Parker Posey), his father’s associate, who was with him shortly before his collapse.
Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) is a local teenager and high school graduate who works at the city library. While her friends have already set off for their college adventures, Casey is still holding back, though she’s more than capable intellectually. While she is interested in library science and architecture, she’s hesitant to leave her single mother, Maria (Michelle Forbes), who is a recovering addict and trying to get back into the local workforce.
Casey was planning on attending one of Jin’s father’s lectures — his specialty is architecture — but when the lecture is canceled after the professor’s collapse, she winds up meeting Jin while he’s spending a quiet moment alone. At first their relationship is pensive, but over subsequent meetings through the film’s 100-minute run time, they visit different architectural oddities around town and gradually open up to each other.
Essentially, “Columbus” becomes a series of meditative conversations that help one character reconcile his past while another tries to take charge of her own. The conversations feel natural but are also drawn out and contemplative and will strain the attention spans of any but the most determined moviegoers.
“Columbus” is also a visual film, tied into the architecture theme. Kogonada frequently showcases very deliberate compositions that use natural light to focus attention on indoor scenes or, when outdoors, to consider the symmetry of different buildings. Kogonada also has a lot of fun in Columbus’ library, exploring its open spaces and vast rows of books.
Richardson is candid, appealing as the hopeful but cautious teen considering her future. She explores her options through Jin, but also through her friend and library co-worker Gabriel (Rory Culkin), who has a couple of years and degrees under his belt, which enhances his intellectual perspectives. Cho works well as Jin, returned to a place that isn’t home and looking back with bitterness at a stretch of life Casey is anticipating.
It may take a little more effort and patience to appreciate what “Columbus” has to say about friendship, grief and courage, but the messages are worth that effort.
“Columbus” is not rated, but it has a few scattered instances of R-rated profanity and some brief male nudity; running time: 100 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who also teaches English composition for Weber State University. You can also find him on https://www.youtube.com/moviereviewsbyjosh.