Greatish Performances #52

#52 — Haley Lu Richardson as Casey in Columbus (Kogonada, 2017)

In Columbus, Haley Lu Richardson plays a young woman waiting for her life to start. Intelligent and engaged in the world around her, Casey is about one year out of high school. Rather than embarking for college, as everyone expected, she stayed in her hometown of Columbus, Indiana. The main prompt for the stasis is Casey’s mother, Maria (Michelle Forbes), who’s made a series of bad choices, including disastrous romances and drug abuse. Casey is committed to taking care of her mother, making dinner every night and serving as her trusted companion in front of the television set in their modest home. There’s a hint of codependency to their relationship, but there’s also a sense that Casey is holding herself back deliberately, afraid to step off the end of her slender branch and see if those intellectual wings of hers are developed enough to result in freeing flight.

Written and directed by Kogonada, Columbus takes the ingredients of heavy drama and transforms them into a far more subtle dish. Casey starts to shift her perspective when she strikes up a friendship with Jin (John Cho), a Korean translator who has come to town when his father, a renowned professor of architecture, falls ill shortly before a speaking engagement there. Jin has come out of reluctant obligation, so he’s eager for an excuse to stay away from the hospital, and he clearly finds this precocious young woman’s smarts appealing. Casey, largely without anyone to share her enthusiasm for the modernist buildings, bonds with Jin because, it seems, she finally has someone who responds to her with appreciative curiosity. He doesn’t want to dump theories on her like her library coworker Gabriel (Rory Culkin). And when Casey defaults into rote sharing of accumulate knowledge, he pushes her to go deeper. He wants to know what she feels about what she knows.

As Casey slowly unearths herself, sometimes making her own discoveries in the sharing of previously unspoken truths, Richardson unfolds a performance of tender poignancy. For the role — and the film — to work, Richardson must be gracefully open. She brings a heartfelt intimacy to key moments in the film, such as Casey’s first steps out of the comfort of rehearsed commentary about her favorite structures or her confession of the struggles her single mother has endured. Without relying on maudlin notes, Richardson signals the way that the ongoing chore of developing protective poses for her parent has left her worn. Before she speaks aloud that she is tired, the exhaustion is already evident, felt along with her. She surveys her own existence with a wary eye, sometimes genuine content in the routines she’s crafted but also clearly looking at a horizon that holds the promising future she has opted to forgo.

Richardson’s naturalistic performance conveys the entirety of Casey. When disappointed entwined with anger wells up in Casey as she discovers a deception, Casey plays the scene with the clipped cadence of someone who has trained themselves not to break or explode. Even if she seeks a momentary outlet for her sparking feelings, spinning wildly to blasting music in the blaze of headlights, it is bracketed by determination and control. Richardson plays this to perfection, and extends the totality of Casey to wry humor, childlike pleasure, and tentatively revealed inner pain. Rather than disparate qualities, all these facets interlock into the structure of a recognizable person. When Casey finally makes the choice she has been denying herself, it is not thunderous triumph. That wouldn’t be truthful and consistent. It is difficult, which is why it wasn’t done in the first place. Depicting it any other way would be a betrayal of the whole developed by Richardson across the span of the film. If it can be argued that Casey spends the length of narrative learning to see herself, it is certain that Richardson successfully shows the fullness of the character all the way through.


About Greatish Performances
#1 — Mason Gamble in Rushmore
#2 — Judy Davis in The Ref
#3 — Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca
#4 — Kirsten Dunst in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
#5 — Parker Posey in Waiting for Guffman
#6 — Patricia Clarkson in Shutter Island
#7 — Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise
#8 — Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
#9 — Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy
#10 — Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny
#11 — Nick Nolte in the “Life Lessons” segment of New York Stories
#12 — Thandie Newton in The Truth About Charlie
#13 — Danny Glover in Grand Canyon
#14 — Rachel McAdams in Red Eye
#15 — Malcolm McDowell in Time After Time
#16 — John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig and the Angry Inch
#17 — Michelle Pfeiffer in White Oleander
#18 — Kurt Russell in The Thing
#19 — Eric Bogosian in Talk Radio
#20 — Linda Cardellini in Return
#21 — Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King
#22 — Oliver Platt in Bulworth
#23 — Michael B. Jordan in Creed
#24 — Thora Birch in Ghost World
#25 — Kate Beckinsale in The Last Days of Disco
#26 — Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys
#27 — Wilford Brimley in The Natural
#28 — Kevin Kline in Dave
#29 — Bill Murray in Scrooged
#30 — Bill Paxton in One False Move
#31 — Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight
#32 — Essie Davis in The Babadook
#33 — Ashley Judd in Heat
#34 — Mira Sorvino in Mimic
#35 — James Gandolfini in The Mexican
#36 — Evangeline Lilly in Ant-Man
#37 — Kelly Marie Tran in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
#38 — Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit
#39 — Kristin Scott Thomas in The English Patient
#40 — Katie Holmes in Pieces of April
#41 — Brie Larson in Short Term 12
#42 — Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums
#43 — Jean Arthur in Only Angels Have Wings
#44 — Matthew Macfadyen in Pride & Prejudice
#45 — Peter Fonda in Ulee’s Gold
#46 — Raul Julia in The Addams Family
#47 — Delroy Lindo in Clockers
#48 — Mila Kunis in Black Swan
#49 — Sidney Poitier in Edge of the City
#50 — Lee Grant in The Landlord
#51 — Nicole Kidman in Eyes Eide Shut

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