‘Columbus’ is a striking drama of negative space
Columbus is going to do great things for tourism in Columbus, Indiana: a city of 44,061 people, birthplace of Vice President Mike Pence and surprising home to a spectacular array of modernist architecture. It’s the unlikely setting of the first feature Kogodana, the respected film essayist/Vimeo user who has produced superb collections of clips from Hitchcock, Wes Anderson and every other director I love.
His range of influences are prominently showcased in this fabulous debut, anchored by the wonderful Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho. Richardson was the best thing in The Edge of Seventeen and Split, and I first heard of Columbus through her Instagram profile (I can’t resist an actor with Lu in their name). She is absolutely radiant in this film; it’s a more underplayed version of what Brigette Lundy-Paine did in Atypical, and it’s an incredibly sincere, inviting performance. Cho was hilarious in the Harold and Kumar movies and is always a charming presence on some FOX drama or other, but Columbus offers us John Cho: The Actor for the first time.
Richardson’s Casey works in a library, backhanding flirtation from a Culkin, and caring for her recovering meth addict mother. Cho’s Jin comes to Columbus to see his ailing architect father. They meet, they smoke and they stare at buildings. It’s the closest any director has gotten to the particular vibe of Linklater’s Before trilogy, where the hanging out doesn’t undermine the intellect (like, for example, the Master of None episode “Amarsi un po”), but Columbus’ focus isn’t as sternly on the personalities of its — arguably, unremarkable — couple as those films. Kogodana clearly cares deeply about the building designs, but is also desperate not to patronise or alienate the audience. It’s a careful balance, and he hits the mark perfectly.
There’s a motif of gaps and divides throughout Columbus: when Casey and Jin meet, they’re on opposite sides of a fence. When they stare at buildings, they leave a few feet between them. There’s no great physical intimacy shown in the film: it’s also about the bonds that are formed in spite of the negative space, both the physical and the . It’s an overwhelmingly quiet drama, which only makes the (almost inevitable) scene of Casey dancing wildly in the headlights of her car so much more thrilling. Columbus has a very unique energy rooted in the passion of the filmmaker and the dedication of these performers. Nothing makes me happier than finding a tiny film nobody’s seen to put on my Best of the Year list, and Columbus is the one for 2017.