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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Columbus is an indie drama about a 30-something man (John Cho) and a younger woman (Haley Lu Richardson) who bond while in the titular small town in Indiana, which is famous for its modernist architecture. A character study with beautiful cinematography, the movie doesn't have much of a plot, but it does have heavy themes (parents' mortality, strained parent-child relationships, the important of architecture, higher education/college, philosophy, drug use, and more), which are addressed through the main characters' intense conversations. There's a brief kiss between a married woman and an unmarried man, as well as discussion of a character's meth addiction. Although this is a quiet film, it's powerful and should appeal to older teens who have an interest in filmmaking, architecture, and unique friendships.
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What's the story?
COLUMBUS is set not in Ohio's capital city, but in the small Indiana town that's known for its modernist architectural treasures. Jin (John Cho), the adult son of an internationally renowned Korean architect, arrives in the area because his father was hospitalized while in town to give a lecture. Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), meanwhile, is an intellectually curious 19-year-old local who works at the library (one of the town's architectural gems) instead of going away to college because she doesn't want to leave her mother (Michelle Forbes), a recovering meth addict. Jin and Casey meet shortly after she spots him outside the hospital, where her mom works. The two begin to meet up and tour Columbus' famous architectural spots while discussing their fraught relationships with their parents, higher education, philosophy, and the future. Their touching, platonic relationship leads to revelations for them both.
Is it any good?
Visually gorgeous, this exceptionally acted indie drama is a compelling character study as well as a love letter to a town that boasts some of the United States' most important architecture. After scene-stealing supporting performances in Edge of Seventeen and Split, Richardson does a beautiful job in a leading role, capturing Casey's intelligence, concern over her mother, and frustration that she's a bit stuck without a college education. But the emotion that's a true revelation is Casey's awe, which Richardson conveys every time Casey looks at (or, more accurately, meditates on) the amazing architecture around her -- particularly the Deborah Berke-designed Irwin Union Bank, whose drive-through features a gorgeous glass canopy. Casey shares her love of architecture with Jin, who admits he doesn't know much about it, despite his father's prominence. What Jin does want to know isn't the "tour guide talk," but how Casey feels about the architecture. Once she starts sharing, neither of them can stop, even though their time together includes a fair amount of companionable silence (and reflecting on their surroundings).
Director (and writer and editor) Kogonada is best known for visual essays or supercuts that explain the genius of auteurs; if Columbus is any indication, he has the talent to perhaps someday join his former subjects. The symmetry (or asymmetry) of nearly every shot is meticulous, highlighting the beauty of Columbus' architecture, whether it's award winning and historical, or, in the case of Casey's house, a lower-middle-class rambler. As for Cho, he plays against type here, with very little of the humor his early career was based on. Parker Posey and Rory Culkin are also quite good in supporting roles as Jin's father's protégé/former student and Casey's brainy library co-worker, respectively. Ultimately, though, it's Richardson, Cho, and Columbus itself that are the stars of this film, which may make audiences want to book a flight to Indiana.
Talk to your kids about ...
How big a role does the actual town of Columbus play in the movie? Does it make you want to learn more about the town's history and/or architecture? Where would you start?
Why do you think the movie has been so critically acclaimed? What tends to make film critics respond positively to a movie? What makes them respond negatively?
Do you think viewers assume that any relationship between a man and a woman in a movie will turn romantic? Do you?
- In theaters: August 4, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: November 3, 2017
- Cast: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey
- Director: Kogonada
- Studio: Depth of Field
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship
- Character strengths: Communication, Empathy
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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