This quiet, 1990s-style indie stars Haley Lu Richardson as a 19-year-old resident of Columbus, Indiana, the small town that became an unlikely center for Modernist architecture. Drifting through life post-high school, Richardson's only ambition is to be a tour guide. On the day she plans to see a Korean architecture professor give a talk, the professor collapses and is sent to a local hospital. As he is unable to be moved to a larger city, his only child (John Cho) treks out to Columbus to sit vigil. It takes a while for Richardson and Cho to cross paths, but they eventually do, at which point Columbus takes on a Before Sunrise tone: lots of walking and talking, soul-searching and philosophizing, connecting and disconnecting. Many cigarettes are smoked.
Richardson, with her almost impossibly perfect girl-next-door looks, is the main appeal of Columbus. Her performance is winsome and nuanced. Cho, for his part, is like Kogonada's script and the film itself: handsome, earnest, serious, a little stiff. The small supporting cast includes Michelle Forbes as Richardson's mother, who may or not be using meth, Rory Culkin as Richardson's nerdy library coworker, and Parker Posey as the architecture professor's assistant. Forbes is solid, Culkin well-cast. Only the usually dependable Posey misses the beat: she is unconvincing here.
The mononymous Kogonada, a Korean-American film essayist making his directorial debut, has fashioned a successful love letter to architecture and to the films of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu (Columbus is nothing if not perfectly framed, and only 7-8 shots involve any camera movement at all). As a drama, Columbus is less successful: you may be drawn in by these characters, you may be turned off by the sometimes ponderous dialogue. But it is a nice throwback to a simpler style of indie filmmaking, and Richardson is a star in the making.