Drama, Romance, Comedy
IMDB rating:
John Cho as Jin
Reen Vogel as Hotel Cleaner
Lindsey Shope as Sarah
Alphaeus Green Jr. as Tour Guide #1
Rosalyn R. Ross as Christine
Caitlin Ewald as Bartender
William Willet as Maria's supervisor / love interest
Wynn Reichert as Miller House Tour Guide
Jim Dougherty as Aaron
Rory Culkin as Gabriel
Parker Posey as Eleanor
Storyline: A Korean-born man finds himself stuck in Columbus, Indiana, where his architect father is in a coma. The man meets a young woman who wants to stay in Columbus with her mother, a recovering addict, instead of pursuing her own dreams.

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A Critique of a Critique
Much like the city that bears the film's name, Columbus is a rare unspoiled gem in a sea of same-old, same-old. It's a spellbinding whisper; a soulful, sweet and self-assured voice that you can only hear if you can calm your mind for long enough. The film takes something as simple as two strangers getting to know each other and elevates it to an art with unspoken spiritual dimensions. Every frame truly is a painting here. The colors on the palette – our actors and the man made wonders that occupy the space.

The film begins with the collapse of an elderly Korean scholar who was in town to give a talk on modernist architecture. He slips into a coma, anticipating the arrival of his son Jin (Cho). Jin in turn is forced to put his life in Seoul on hold as he waits for either the death or recovery of his estranged father. While this is happening, Casey (Richardson) a bright, kindhearted towny and unabashed lover of architecture approaches Jin while out for an afternoon stroll. The two kindle a friendship that subtly shifts their perspectives; a bond that is as deeply felt as it is melancholy.

No words can truly describe freshman writer-director Kogonada vision in this film. Dreamy, contemplative, ethereal – all worthy words in any context but in film they come not as adjectives but unfortunate value statements. We as a culture have silently, perhaps subconsciously ascribed these words to mean languid and boring, refusing to acknowledge any portents of purposeful design. I myself have fallen into this trap plenty of times. I've watched a grand total of three Yasujiro Ozu films over the course of my life, and all three times I have been left wanting.

Kogonada is certainly mimicking aspects of Ozu here, including a deeply wistful tone and using water as a leitmotif. But Kogonada's approach does have some stark differences. For one, large generational shifts in understanding are treated in an overall positive light. Casey's astute work friend Gabriel (Culkin) expounds with increasing clarity the idea that different interests and habits don't necessarily mean we lose sight of what's important. As the film meanders through its story, the camera holds lovingly on Indiana's strange architectural wonderland as if to say the wise and the eternal can coexist with the new and the modern. In its own unassuming way, Columbus almost acts like a critique of a critique.

Most of the time however, Columbus is a beautifully captured human story pure and simple. The odd coupling of John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson is reminiscent of Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray in Lost in Translation (2003) only both are objectively less world-weary. As an actress of incredible, disarming vulnerability, Richardson fills every room, field and parking lot like a beam of sunlight. She's always had warmth to her popular performances but with Columbus she proves that she's much more than a pretty face. John Cho likewise is tremendous as the prickly and wounded Jin. The script requires that the narrative chips away at his tough exterior slowly. Thus all the guilt, anger and regret he wells up inside needs to stay just exposed enough to hold the audience interest. It's a harder thing to do than it looks but thankfully Cho pulls it off with aplomb.

If Columbus has any fatal flaws it strictly has to do with scale. The film dwells on the inscrutability of life and the beauty of the world if one only looks, but then folds all these ideas in a movie tacitly about daddy issues and life no longer being a tutorial. Additionally it can be argued that if this is a movie about looking, watching and appreciating, than why are we following two people who use looking, watching and appreciating architecture as a cudgel?

Personally when I watched Columbus I was struck by its serenity. It reminded me of a Lao Tzu poem I once read that more or less goes like this:

The supreme good is like water, Which nourishes all things without trying to. It is content with the low places that people disdain. This it is like the Tao. In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don't try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family, be completely present. When you are content to be simply yourself And don't compare or compete, Everybody will respect you.
The simple lessons of this beautiful movie never approach the banal
"A lot of today's Hollywood films don't have a lot of patience. They sort of expect the audience to get bored really quickly, so they're like, 'We've got to have an explosion every 10 minutes.'" That was said about the dystopian science-fiction sequel Blade Runner 2049. It's hard then to imagine how a film like Columbus, the debut film of writer/director Kogonada, got made at all or that American audiences would sit through it. I liked it. Set in Columbus, Indiana, home to an astonishing collection of modernist architecture, the buildings speak to a young city resident, Casey (played by Haley Lu Richardson). She's been offered a chance to go to Boston to work and study with a prominent woman architect, but has decided to stay where she is, shelving books in the local library. She lives with her mother, recently recovered from a bad meth habit, and is afraid to leave her. They treat each other like thin-shelled eggs that require constant vigilance. She has an admirer at the library (Rory Culkin), who, like her mother, urges her to go. This stasis changes when she meets Jin (John Cho), the New York-based son of a prominent Korean architecture scholar who suffered a stroke while visiting the town. He's in the hospital and may never recover consciousness. He and Jin have had a distant relationship and Jin feels little connection now. He wants to get back to his life. The father is probably closer to his long-time assistant (Parker Posey), who, like Casey, has given up her individuality to play a supporting role. Richardson and Cho bring great depth to their parts, and it's a pleasure to watch them—indeed, the entire cast—work. There's not a lot of yelling or acting out. And not one explosion. The example of Casey, denying herself so much to protect her mother, weighs on Jin, just as his encouragement to follow her dream inspires her. This sounds simple, but the movie never drifts into the banal. The healing power of architecture is often referenced and the Columbus buildings, lit from inside at night or seen from odd angles, are stunningly beautiful. They loom over the characters studying them like benign watchmen. Arty, and satisfying—as Sean P. Means said in the Salt Lake Tribune, "a tender, beautiful gem that should not be overlooked."
Nice trick making Columbus seem Asian but not really a good time
Since one of the stars is a Korean it's a bit of a surprise that the movie seems Japanese. And that's its only saving grace. The leads, two relatively young people, are charming enough, I suppose, but they don't have much to do in this slow moving, not very profound study of some of a small town's inhabitants and its architecture.

What's admirable is the way a Midwestern town is made to seem so Japanese though I'm sure that wasn't the intention. But since I live in one myself I thought it quite an accomplishment. It's not enough to make this a worthwhile watch, however, as it's fleeting and goes nowhere. I suppose it's all meant to show how Asian sensibilities might find fertile ground in the Midwest but I wasn't moved. And we actually have a large Asian student population in our town. We regularly eat at a part Korean restaurant so we should have seen some sign of a meld, but not a hint. Still, it is a nice thought, and I can't pan this film entirely.
Opposites Attract (Part Way)
'Love story that involves not just human relationships but relationships between architecture' was its clunky presentation to Australian audiences. That would usually be enough to turn me off. But I needed soothing after the toxic excesses of 'Mulholland Drive', wheeled out again the same US movie festival.

Glad I gave it a spin. It very much moves at its own pace, but gets places in the end. Thoughtful M-F dialogue in beautiful settings almost lends this a Before Sunrise/Sunset vibe. But the different touch is that the man and woman are helping each other through to life's next staging posts, rather more so than falling for each other.

She cares too much about her mother. He too little for his father. The director actually includes a dialogue that states this central proposition directly. That too would usually be a turnoff, but is less so here given the genuine credits built up by then. Haley Lu Richardson, doing quite a different character to her recent turn in Edge of 17, shows an actorly maturity beyond her years.
Throwback to another era: an architectural relationship drama
"Columbus" (2017 release; 104 min.) brings the story of Casey and Jin. As the movie opens, we see an older guy collapse, and not long thereafter his son Jin, a Korean-American now working in Seoul as a book translator, arrives at the hospital in Columbus, Indiana. In a parallel story, we get to know Casey, a 19 or 20 yr. old woman who works at the local library. In conversation with a co-worker, we understand that Casey decided to pass up going to college, in order to keep an eye on the well-being of her mother, a recovering addict. It's not long before Jin and Casey run into each other during a smoke-break. At this point we are 15 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the feature-length debut of Korean (or perhaps Korean-American) writer-director Kogonada, whom I previously was not familiar with. Here he brings a movie that feels like a throwback to another era: he explores the lives of several individuals, set in the "Mecca of Architecture", Columbus, IN. It's rare that the location of a movie plays like a central, if not pivotal, character, but this is certainly the case here. As we get to understand the relationship challenges encountered by both Jin and Casey, they explore the various modernist buildings in Columbus. The film moves at glacial speed, and I mean this as a compliment: on a number of occasions, a scene plays out over several minutes and the camera angle simply stays put the entire time. It makes the movie feels timeless. Even when changing angles, Kogonada selects every shot with a purpose and we marvel at the sights AND the interactions between the central characters. Kudos to both John Cho (as Jin) and Haley Lu Richardson (as Casey). It wasn't until the end credits that I noticed another character (the old man's assistant) was played by none other than Parker Posey (I had not recognized her). Last, but not least, there is a wonderful atmospheric score, composed/performed by ambient duo Hammock.

"Columbus" premiered at this year's Sundance film festival to immediate acclaim. It has been playing for at least a month at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, and I finally got around to seeing it this week. The Tuesday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended so-so, but the fact that this has been playing here so long should give you a good indication how well the movie has been received. If you are in the mood for a slow-moving (in the best possible way) relationship drama set in the unique context of modernist architecture, you cannot go wrong with "Columbus", be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray.
Meth and modernism.
You couldn't shoot this movie in any other town. What first time director Kogonada finds in Columbus is a simple thesis; modernist architecture, by the likes of designers such as Eero Saarinen, Harry Weese, and I.M. Pei, their great planes of glass, jutting edges and spires, sharp dividing lines, and the lonely citizens that are framed by them, their lives impossibly tangled, their pathways weaving in and out of these pillars. For Casey, one of the sleepy town's youngest inhabitants (that has the freedom to leave), they may be her small consolation prize. She works in one of the fabled buildings, the Cleo Rogers Memorial Library, but spends most of that time shelving dusty books instead of gazing at the ceilings. Her first scene betrays her passion, a smoke-break turned daydream as she mumbles out imaginary tour guide sound bites across from the First Christian Church, teasing out the intricacies of its deliberate asymmetrical design. Yet these sleek walls and panels have little appeal when they reveal their contents; a heartbreaking scene where Casey surveys the glass interiors like a prison made for her mother, a recovered drug addict who cleans all night long.

If you study her wardrobe you'll notice key design choices made to indicate Casey as an old soul, matured much beyond the confines of the titular town. Baggy mum jeans, loose-fitting blouses, long dresses bunched around her sandals. Yes, she's the responsible parent of the family, chasing up her daughter's missed phone calls, charging up to school with a firm reminder of her pick-up time. There's a slightly off-kilter moment where she declares her allegiance to old technology, "Smart phone, dumb human." Haley Lu Richardson delivers much of her dialogue gazing off-screen, with a wistful smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes. The mood in the Columbus air is melancholy. That draws John Cho's Jin closer, who can't wait to get out of town. Together they excavate the baggage of their difficult parent relationships, with conversations that tiptoe lightly around the subject, but withdraw quickly. Cho in particular does well with what he is given. His father only briefly graces the screen in the opening of the film, with Jin's actions made to outline the rough sketches of their strained relationship; a slight hesitant step before entering the hospital room, a retreat from the suffocating confines of modern living to nature outside.

Even without knowing much about the man behind the mysterious pseudonym, you could pinpoint his favoured sources of inspiration. But we don't have to dig too deep. For those invested in the video essay scene, Kogonada will be a familiar face, known for years for his Vimeo-uploaded super-cuts exhibiting the immaculate centred frames of Kubrick, the flattened, scrapbook formalism of Wes Anderson, Ozu's penchant for boxing in his subjects with doorways and windows and walls. It's all there in Columbus, which embraces austere formalism like an old friend. If it wasn't already obvious enough, the director's alias is seemingly taken from Kogo Noda, Ozu's longtime scriptwriter collaborator. Kogonada has written and edited here, and he might as well be the DP too; the film's tableus are constructed from ground up, with the characters arranged around the architecture and dictated by the strong lines, not the other way around. While they weave in and out, and trudge to and from mirrors and showers, the camera is still. They'll be obscured behind glass, or heard from behind a corner, or framed through a corridor. Even strolling through an office, the line of desks are arrow straight, and the sticky notes are placed impeccably. Rarely does Kogonada cut to a closeup. When he does for what should be the most revealing moment of the film, where Jin presses Casey for what truly moves her about these buildings, it's merely to resort to a disappointing indie cliché - deigetic sound cuts out, and she confesses wordlessly over soft music.

I should be feeling more for this girl. She veers a little into cliché, but there's a worldly weariness about her that separates from the usual archetype. Richardson's ability to sudden crumble under the weight of all her anxieties, seen in another muted moment in the car, is extraordinary. She suddenly reverts to the child that had to see her mother as an addict at fourteen. Yet her overall journey is so isolated from the rest of the plot. She weeps on behalf of her mother, who doesn't even get a say in this decision. And what of her and Jin's tumultuous relationship? They're willing to aim barbed insults at each other and then be cordial the next meeting. He doesn't even eventually get the chance to shed tears, or muse on the lack of them.
Most boring movie ever?
This is one of those movies that tries to pretend it is deep by having long silences, little character development, vague background, a spotty plot (even for what plot there is). Leave enough such blanks, and certain viewers will fill them in (in various ways) and convince themselves they've just seen something profound. Like bad poetry, except that the dialogue here is far from poetic:

"I worry I'll hurt my mom. I worry I'll hurt you."

"You have to stop worrying about hurting people."

"You have to stop worrying about hurting people, too."

So, long silences broken by inane dialogue from undeveloped characters in the most minimal of plots (no spoilers possible because nothing happens). Gave it two stars instead of one only because of some shots of interesting architecture, which is hardly enough to redeem this interminably dull movie.
Paint Drying....
I read several of the reviews before seeing this film. John Cho is usually pretty good. He brings a kind of thoughtfulness to the role. However, as far as pace is concerned, I've seen paint dry faster than this movie.

Utterly one of those movies I might, or should have skipped. I can take some slow segments, but this was seriously slow. I never could get into the characters because of that.

The one positive was the architecture though. Very nice. I'm originally from the mid-west and can relate to the quiet, peaceful towns through out the region. Columbus might be one of those places you'd want to be buried at.

Summarizing this film, would be, slow. If you have 100 minutes to kill, this might be up your alley. Make sure you check your pulse from time to time.
A Quietly Devastating Film!
'Columbus' is a near-masterpiece. No kidding! Written and Directed by Kogonada, 'Columbus' is a film that screams craft & skill. Its a small little film, made with passion & heart. And the actors, all of them -- are top-notch!

'Columbus' Synopsis: A Korean-born man finds himself stuck in Columbus, Indiana, where his architect father is in a coma. The man meets a young woman who wants to stay in Columbus with her mother, a recovering addict, instead of pursuing her own dreams.

'Columbus' is about human beings, its about us. And there is nothing harder than to tell a story about us, I believe. But, Kogonada achieves this feat with mega success. This story of souls wandering in Columbus, Indiana is a tribute to architecture & the ride called life, itself. Its a quietly devastating film, that asks you to feel. Kogonada's Screenplay is fabulous & so his is Direction. Cinematography & Editing compliment Kogonada's vision to great results.

Performance-Wise: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin, Michelle Forbes and Jim Dougherty, ALL, are tremendous. Haley Lu takes the lead, delivering a performance driven by heartache & shattered dreams. She has the potential to go places! John Cho is masterfully restrained & expresses grief, with subtly. The irresistible Parker Posey continues her winning streak. And Roy Culkin adds a nice boyish charm to his earnest character.

On the whole, 'Columbus' comes out of nowhere & ends up taking a part out of you. How often do films do that nowadays?
Star-making performance from Richardson
I can assure that Haley Lu Richardson will become a star after her breakthrough performance in this film.

In "Columbus", Richardson plays Casey, a high-school graduate who struggles between her obsession of architecture and the responsibility of taking care of her drug-addicted mother. Casey is in the transition from a child to an adult, and is uncertain of her future. Through the interaction with Jin, played by John Cho, she finally determines to leaves Columbus to pursue her dreams. Richardson, gives a natural, honest and powerful portrayal of the character. Her performance lifts the film from beautifully shot scenery to a new level that is heartfelt, warm and inspirational.

Jin, John Cho's role, is less complete compared to Casey, in the sense that his estranged relationship with his father is not solved in the end. Therefore, to some extent, this is the first time Richardson plays a truly leading role, considering her not-so-important roles in "The Edge of Seventeen" and "Split".