Columbus, Indiana may be a relatively small city, but for some reason, it’s some kind of architectural oasis. It has a lot of buildings, structures, and sculptures with nontraditional designs, which is to say there is a lot of symmetry and asymmetry, things are elevated or have tall spires or lots of negative space, things are made of unusual materials, or there’s just something unusually artistic about them. Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) has lived there nearly her whole life, and she’s become fascinated with the architecture. She’s taken all the tours, attends all of the talks by guest speakers, and spends a lot of time admiring the sights. She graduated from high school over a year ago but doesn’t have any plan to go to college. She works in the local library (along with Rory Culkin) and hangs out with her mom.
Jin (John Cho) is her opposite. He doesn’t live in Columbus, and he doesn’t care about architecture. Yet he’s there because his father, a famous architect (or maybe just a famous authority on architecture) was there to give a talk when he collapsed and fell into a coma. He’s not particularly enthusiastic about staying by his father’s side, so he’s happy to meet Casey and spend time with her, even if he doesn’t share her fascination with the beauty that surrounds them.
The film progresses slowly, but it really earns the right to use that pace through the way that it reveals information to us and how we come to understand what is really going on. And in that regard, it’s certainly not guilty of offering too much information, but you eventually catch onto everything that you need. We discover that Casey and Jin have more in common than we might have suspected at first glance and that each may be harboring feelings that he other projects but that may not be as true as they believe.
For a film with such a strong focus on the visual appeal of architecture, cinematography is important, and Columbus certainly has a distinct style there as well. There are a lot of shots looking down narrow corridors, and much of the time there is information waiting to be revealed from around a corner or off to the side. The film makes heavy use of reflection, with well-placed mirrors and panes of glass allowing us to see things that would otherwise not be visible, or to see the same thing from multiple perspectives. And there’s a lot of focus on negative and wide open spaces that, when combined with the film’s deliberately slow pacing, gives you a chance to take everything in. At times, it almost feels like it’s beating you over the head with how subtle it’s being, but it works surprisingly well.