Sailed well past the Port of Efficiency and into the Sea of Tedium

I ’d like to talk for a moment about establishing shots. Establishing shots are generally long-range location overview camera angles at the start of a scene indicating where the rest of a scene will take place. They were a great deal more common in film of ages past. They’re useful in describing terrain or geographical features where a scene might take place, like, say, in an action films if you know a character is running towards a cliff or flying into enemy territory. You know where establishing shots are darn near useless? In film where the characters just sit around. Columbus has a ton of establishing shots and even more sitting around. To be fair, the dialogue of the movie is often about architecture, so it’s partially useful to enter a scene with an establishing shot so we can see what the characters are talking about. However, one or two moments of practical doesn’t justify the scores of establishing shots in Columbus.

Columbus has quick establishing shots; it has lingering establishing shots; it has character-less establishing shots; it has character-replete establishing shots. It has series of establishing shots which act as sort-of a Where’s Waldo game – “Hmmm, John Cho is not there … not there … not there … there he is! … not there … wait, go back; we found him.” And you’ll think I’m making this up, but I am not, Columbus even has establishing shots for establishing shots. Modern audiences don’t take especially well to establishing shots. The reason for this is obvious: they’re often unnecessary. If a film is shot well, the director needn’t introduce each scene with a setting overview. He sure needn’t do it for twenty seconds. I estimate that you could lose at least an hour of superfluous footage from Columbus and not lose one iota of tone. Establish that.

Avid architecture fan Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) graduated high school, but hasn’t left Columbus. She spends her free time chain smoking and hanging out with her library work partner, Rory Culkin (but, let’s face it; that guy is only fun when you’re Home Alone). She was all set to go to one of those big architecture lecture raves everyone talks about when, unfortunately, the professor had a heart attack. The malady brings the prof’s son Jin (Cho) from overseas to be by his side, which Jin wants to do equally as much as attend one of his father’s lectures (i.e. not at all).

The meet-cute where the two share cigarettes and campus space is anything but. Jin is antagonistic, then apologetic; Casey is present because this is where her life is. Both have been boxed in to this place and time by their parents; this much they share, if little else. Subsequent conversations discover they both a have architecture in common – not a love for it, but a relative knowledge base thrust upon them, again, by indirect parental abuse..

John Cho is 45; Haley Lu Richardson is 22. While the movie doesn’t state it outright, a physical romance here is wrong, and, hence, the film plays a great deal like Once – both partners verging towards a communal understanding beyond normal friendship, yet one clearly bounded by limitation. And, as in the case with Once, this left me feeling cheated. While I enjoy head games in the courting ritual, I need my romance to be a little less cerebral, youknowwhatI’msayin’?

Despite the limitation, there is undeniable chemistry between Casey and Jin. Do we attribute this to two lost souls with a rental problem or is there something much deeper going on here? What would drive a mismatched couple to stare at the buildings of Columbus for hours on end? What would drive an audience to tolerate a non-sexual couple staring at the buildings of Columbus for hours on end? Clearly, imdb says that this film has an appreciative audience, and I respect it for character and dialogue, but it’s still a very far cry from my fav film set on a Big-10 campus, Breaking Away.

Two souls exchange lives over a smoke
She’s a kid while he’s a much older bloke
Of their words, I’m fond
But this non-contact bond
I’m afraid I’m not in on the joke

Not Rated, 100 Minutes
Director: Kogonada (!)
Writer: (Kogonada has no need for writing credit)
Genre: Non-romance romance
Type of being most likely to enjoy this film: Critics
Type of being least likely to enjoy this film: The impatient

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