John Cho should be our next leading man. Above all else does the thriller Searching, directed by Aneesh Chaganty, make this abundantly clear. Cho stars as David Kim, recently-widowed father of teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) and doing his best to keep his composure. Opening on a heartfelt and heartbreaking montage of messages and moments as displayed on a computer screen, Chaganty establishes what will be the aesthetic of the picture.
We never leave the computer screen, following all action from Kim’s communication via Facetime, iMessage, Gmail, etc. When Margot goes missing, Kim enlists the help of an investigator (Debra Messing) to lead the search, while he frantically investigates her laptop. Written by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian, new information moves on screen like a bullet, speaking soundly to the tech hurricane we currently live in. Windows are dragged from left to right, minimized and maximized as David plays detective, discovering the depths to which he didn’t truly know his daughter.
Thankfully, it’s always entertaining, often funny, and ultimately enjoyably ridiculous. As the mystery expands and then re-focuses, Cho anchors it all with an impressive range and constant vigor. Messing is saddled with a lesser role, though she does well with what (and when) she can. The limitation of the computer screen allows for extremely creative thinking. And for a good long while, it’s clever. By the time it becomes a bit silly, Chaganty’s got his audience in the palm of his hand, thanks in no small part to Cho.
The Korean-American actor delivered perhaps the strongest performance of his career in last year’s Columbus, playing it small and subtle and sad. Here, he’s big and dramatic and nearly as effective. Between these two films, Cho’s running the gamut of emotions and deserves to be commended. Michelle La does good work in a limited role and Joseph Lee provides some welcome comedy as David’s brother. One element that gets lost a bit throughout is actual human interaction, the construct feeling artificial at times. Of course, this is part of the experience. So many of us spend the majority of our time in front of screens.
As the style begins to wear out its welcome, the promise of a resolution and nifty twist keep things nimble. Like a well-crafted paperback, Searching never commits the cardinal sin of being boring. Chaganty does his damndest to find new ways of showing his viewers new developments in fresh, technical ways. Though it be far from perfect, the execution is worth the journey.
Searching premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and opens on August 24.