Everyone enjoys taking shortcuts. But that’s especially true for people who write about movies. As the very phrase “film criticism” implies, it’s much easier to write a review tearing a film apart than it is to write a review that explains why a film is good. Similarly, it’s easy to pan a film that doesn’t meet your initial expectations – and comparatively difficult to appraise a film that exposes you to a novel way of thinking.
** ½ (out of 4)
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.