COLUMBUS is a Slow, Enchanting Stroll Through Architectural Beauty (Sundance Review)

We here at Nerdist delight in the kinds of movies that to treat our eyes to visual spectacle. Though more often than not this means bombastic action sequences and top dollar special effects, a movie like Columbus is a much needed reminder that this caliber of aesthetic enchantment can be found in much simpler practices. Case in point: Just walking around and looking at buildings.

Don’t shut out just yet! Sure, Columbus may have the slowest pulse of any movie to hit the Sundance Film Festival this year, but it’s hardly wanting for intrigue. The furthest conceivable thing from the superhero blockbuster genre that usually supplies us with such ocular delights, Columbus takes form as a series of strolls around the architectural mecca that is the titular Indiana suburb. John Cho plays Jin, a man forced to hole up in Columbus after his estranged father suffers a coma. He spends the bulk of his stay avoiding his bedridden dad and dodging accusations from his father’s doting assistant ( Parker Posey), instead ambling about and chatting about beautiful buildings and structures with 19-year-old townie and architecture geek Casey, played to earnest perfection by Haley Lu Richardson.

Just as Jin is paralyzed by his responsibilities to his ailing father, Casey finds herself stuck between a yearning to ditch her destitute hometown and an emotional obligation to her self-destructive mother. Differences in age, background, and academic inclinations aside, Jin and Casey find refuge in one another’s conversation day after day.

These chats, though not exactly laugh riots, are consistently clever and cute, though more impressively, the kind of genuine you rarely get to see in movie dialogue. Cho, getting a chance to strut the dramatic stuff he’s been hiding behind a primarily comedic résumé, is terrific in his lighter and darker moments like. Subdued down to a cellular level, Columbus never lets loose in anything approaching the theatrical, though Cho indeed does get to exhibit new artistic depths, and to great end.

But then there’s Richardson, who, though having only made her film debut a couple years back, lives wholly in her material as though she’d spent decades working on the big screen. Casey carries smirking charm and buried frustration in every scene, generating so much empathy even when she’s simply describing the façade of an office building she finds appealing.

Yes, we’re back on the architecture. Without the rearing of its gorgeous head every other scene or so, Columbus might risk succumbing to doldrums. But first-time director Kogonada treats Indiana buildings like George Lucas would alien planets, or Terrence Malick fields of wheat (pick your poison). We’re not just looking at symmetrical constructions, we’re reveling in a too frequently unsung beauty. Though shots of modern architecture may not sound comparable to the sort of visual spectacle we’re used to, believe me: the compassion with which Columbus films its building-laden titular town is nothing short of invigorating.

4 out of 5 burritos:

Images: Sundance Institute

Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist. Find him on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.

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