I’d like to preface this entry by mentioning that I have not reviewed a movie, neither professionally nor as an amateur, in at least 5 years so if this inaugural review seems a bit clunky, please bear with me. I will get better as I go, as I will not only find my voice but also re-ignite the passion I once had for doing such a thing.
If you haven’t heard of 2017’s “Columbus” that is quite alright, as you are not alone. Despite making its way to various film festivals, the movie never received a wide theatrical release and was then delayed for almost 2 years before it got a DVD release (March 26, 2019, to be exact). It’s one of those things where you would think there would be some sort of explanation as to why, but sometimes Hollywood is just Hollywood and studios behave as they wish, and movies simply fall through the cracks, so to speak. I’d never heard of it myself, until it popped up under New Releases on Amazon one day. Seeing as how I try to buy every new release for the library as possible, and recognizing some of the names in the movie, I purchased it.
“Columbus” is a slow, moody, drama filmed in and set in the medium size city of its namesake in central Indiana. Jin (John Cho) has a world renowned architect father who falls ill while touring various locations in Columbus, and ends up in a coma. Despite living and working as a translator in Korea, Jin is the only person available to tend to his father, and he soon finds himself alone in a town he knows nothing about. Once settled at the architecturally famous Inn at Irwin Gardens, he meets Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) who works next door at the Bartholomew County Public Library. The two slowly befriend one another, with Jin finding comfort in having someone to talk to given that he has no one else, and Casey jumping at the opportunity to give Jin the “insider” tour of the city she so loves. Along the way they discover things about each other that they work through together, such as Jin’s growing angst of living in his father’s shadow (both professionally and personally) and Casey being torn on if she should leave the city she knows so well for a better life, one away from her overbearing mother.
I’m not normally one for “artsy” or “slow and moody” films, but I admit that this movie spoke to me upon its arrival at PPL. For starters, I’m a big fan of Indiana. Not on a political level, but on a “this state is beautiful and has a ton of things to do and see” level. When I learned it was filmed on location in Columbus and was essentially a love story to the various architecture located within the city, I was intrigued. Despite travelling to Brown County a few times for hiking and weekend getaways, I’d never actually been to Columbus. Yes, I have gotten off of I-65 onto IN-46 west, which is technically “in” Columbus, but that just doesn’t count. I was entirely unfamiliar with the city and essentially saw it for the first time within this movie.
Kogonada (the director) wonderfully captured the various modernist architecture located in and around Columbus. I’d never known the city was so renowned for its offerings, and learned a lot just by watching the movie, seeing a location on-screen and then personally looking it up for more information. As I watched the film, I found myself more drawn to the showcased locations than to the story itself. That is not to say the story is bad. The story is just fine. I just simply found myself saying things such as “whoa that is a neat looking building/location” or “that place looks really pretty” etc. Upon the conclusion of the film, I had a PDF travel guide of Columbus pulled up on my laptop so that I could see and learn more about every place I spotted in the movie.
I watched “Columbus” in mid-April, but the movie stuck with me longer than I ever thought it would. Not so much the story, as it’s just a simple “Will these internally torn characters find themselves and make the necessary changes they so desperately need in order to better their lives?” but instead in the “Columbus seems like a really neat town, I should go check it out sometime.” way.
My birthday is in the first few days of June and I am of the type that loves having that day to myself. I look at it as there are 365 days in the year and my birthday is my ONE day that is truly only about me. In my now 35 years on Earth, I’ve only worked on my birthday once. And that was not without a fight. In recent years, I have taken a couple days off around my birthday so that I can take a short trip somewhere to see whatever calls to me. This year, thanks to this movie being fresh in my head, Columbus was calling.
I soon booked a hotel in nearby Edinburgh and made my way to Bartholomew County for a couple days, checking out local antique malls and flea markets (a new favorite activity of mine) and also made my way to downtown Columbus to see firsthand the locations shown in the movie. I timed it right, as the weather was perfect, and I did my own walking tour of the downtown “hotspots.”
I first parked at Mill Race Pond Park, a large and scenic riverside park in downtown Columbus. There I was able to not only stretch my legs by taking a long walk; I also got to see multiple locations from the film such as the large covered bridge and duck pond and the tall lookout tower. I even climbed the lookout tower! However, I’m not a fan of being high up in the air (unless I am safely enclosed in a building), so I didn’t stay at the top very long. From the park, I then walked into downtown and saw the Cummins Diesel headquarters, the Inn at Irwin Gardens, the Bartholomew County Public Library, the First Christian Church and other various statues/works of art.
As a movie fan, I admit it was very cool to be able to stand in the exact locations they were also at in the film. I realize that is possible in a lot of places, as movies are filmed just about everywhere. But, for whatever reason, it felt a lot more personal here. For example, when I walked through the park and crossed the covered bridge, I stopped and stood exactly where Cho and Richardson had their penultimate heart-to-heart conversation late in the movie, and I could easily picture that scene in my head as I stood there. Was it a groundbreaking or life altering scene in the movie or moment in real life? No. It was just simply neat to be able to do. I recently went hiking on Mackinac Island, and found the exact spot where Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymour had a lengthy conversation on the beach in the movie “Somewhere in Time.” Again, it was not an integral part of the film, but Mackinac Island itself has designated that exact location with a marker, and it was also just simply cool to stand where they stood and then picture that scene in my head while I was there. Sometimes that is all the enjoyment you need in life. Just to stand somewhere for a second and be able to say “This is it. This is where ___ happened.”
As for “Columbus”, should you Watch it or Skip it?
I say: watch it!
It really is a beautiful movie, and though it is admittedly slow and borderline boring in some places, it does keep you involved on whether or not the two main characters lives are going to work out/get better like you so hope they will. Cho and Richardson are both excellent in their roles, and it is easily the best performance either actor has given in their respective careers.
Plus, who knows, even if you do end up disliking the movie, you may still get the itch to go check out Columbus like I did. It’s a pretty cool town to go explore!
“Columbus” runs one hour and forty minutes and is rated R for language.