By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, August 11, at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.
A promising but arid directing debut from video essayist Kogonada, with a rare showcase role for John Cho and a potential breakout performance from Haley Lu Richardson (she played Hailee Steinfeld’s best friend in The Edge of Seventeen, as well as one of the kidnapped teens in Split).
The film takes place in Columbus, Indiana, a small mid-western town with an unusual concentration of modern architecture landmarks, and Kogonada makes stunning (if annoyingly on-the-nose) visual and symbolic use of the buildings. Cho plays an American-born man living in Korea who travels to Columbus to attend to his estranged father, a world-renowned architecture expert on the verge of death. Meanwhile, Richardson plays a teenage dropout and architecture buff still over-caring for her ex-addict mother.
These two lost souls connect over their mutual alienation, leading to long nights spent discussing architecture, ambitions, families and cultural differences, and there are superficial resemblances to Lost in Translation and Before Sunrise. Unfortunately, the novelty of actors posing in front of architectural marvels evaporates fast, leaving us with an all-too-familiar festival film about a messed-up adult returning home to deal with family problems, and a privileged teenager summoning the courage to accept a paid internship at Yale.
Kogonada shows some promise, but the film is positively listless by the end. It’s also somewhat lacking in substance given the intelligentsia trappings and novel-like tone.