Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching tells the story of David Kim (John Cho), a suburban office-worker who’s forced to live through every parent’s worst nightmare. At the movie’s start, David’s teenage daughter, Margot (Michelle La), tells him that she’ll be out all night, claiming that she has to study for AP Bio with her friends. The next day, however, she doesn’t show up to school – and although David tries calling her several times, he keeps reaching her voicemail. After 24 hours have elapsed since their last conversation, David no longer has a choice: he calls the police to report Margot as missing.
Kogonada’s Columbus is the latest movie (see anything by Sofia Coppola or Michelangelo Antonioni for older examples) to tackle the subject of ennui. This time around, the setting is Columbus, Indiana – an oft-neglected hub of modern architecture – and the two unmoored protagonists are played by John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson. Cho’s character, Jin, is an overworked Korean-American who has to look after his dying father; Richardson’s character, Casey, is a bookworm who put off college to take care of her mom, a recovering meth addict. On the whole, both of them feel so estranged from the world that they habitually wear expressions laced with a sort of weary, resigned melancholy. But instead of getting bogged down in misery, Jin and Casey eventually find themselves doing what Bob and Charlotte did in Coppola’s Lost in Translation: bonding over their shared emotional frustrations.
Many flawed movies get that way because they’re superficial or repetitive. What’s peculiar about Columbus is that its problem is neither of those: Kogonada clearly has a brain, and his depiction of jaded resignation appreciably differs from Antonioni’s futile desperation and Lost’s ineffable despair. Instead, the main issue with Columbus stems from its inconsistent treatment of its material.