Columbus opens with Jin’s architecture father falling into a coma. Jin, played by John Cho, flies to Columbus, Indiana to take his father’s place as the spokesman to his architectural company. Although his passion for the subject doesn’t match his father’s, his path crosses with Casey, played by Haley Lu Richardson, a young woman who is knowledgeable on the subject. Their relationship begins to grow in the same manner as any other building, one brick at a time, building these layers upon common ground.
A breath of fresh air to see two characters slowly warm up to each other, rather than feeling instantaneous infatuation. John Cho shows another side of himself that audiences haven’t seen in his more famous roles found in Harold and Kumar and Star Trek Beyond. This is a softer, more mysterious role of a man still searching for himself. It is easy to see why they click so easily. Haley Lu Richardson gives her character Casey a soft-spoken nature that is the polar opposite of her determined attitude found in her role from M. Night Shyamalan’s Split. Together they have a relationship that feels fresh and authentic, one that is not brought about by their attractive looks, but their commonality. In fact, there is no mention of whether they are attracted to each other’s physical features. Instead, conversations about their family life, their outlook on their futures, and of course, architecture, are what kickstarts their interest in each other. This is a slow moving, melodic film that captures the small moments that propel a relationship even more than the grand gestures that can be found in romantic-comedies.
At one point, Rory Culkin’s character Gabriel spouts a thematically important monologue, “It’s not a matter of attention span, but of interest…” He goes on to ask, “Are we losing interest in things that matter?” Gabriel and Casey seem like the perfect romantic couple. Your typical couple that could find love. They banter back and forth, throw funny quips at each other and seem to have great chemistry. Though, his flirty remarks can’t find its way past the surface and into the deeper discussions that Casey has with Jin. Gabriel’s speech about attention span seems to reflect upon his own relationship with Casey. She could further pursue Gabriel for a fast-paced, more surface-level relationship, or turn her attention to Jin for a deeper, more rewarding one. “Are we losing interest in things that matter?” Are we losing interest in real relationships in favor for the easier road of quick hook-ups and little romantic investment? What attracts Jin and Casey to each other is more about what will be revealed in themselves, rather than what they may find in each other. Jin takes a liking to Casey because her passion for architecture may help him to discover how to better connect with his father. Casey can figure out how to deal with her meth-recovering mother. Their bond grows tighter through their desire of finding themselves.
Kogonada, director of Columbus, along with cinematographer Elisha Christian, match this slow-burner story of relationships with an equally slow way of showing it. Static camera angles often hang on wide-shots, giving the audience very little movement. It forces you to focus on what they are saying. This also achieves representation of what the characters are enduring, trying to find that momentum that thrusts them forward. A momentum that could potentially be found in each other.
The slow presentation of this story is a necessity in conveying the time and the place these characters are occupying, but also threatens to test the patience of viewers who are looking for a romance that is a little more standard to Hollywood. This is not a Hollywood love story. This is a story about characters finding their way, and finding said paths through unlikely friendships brought about through common interests. If you are looking for a romance that feels a little more real, look no further than Columbus. [A]