Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Columbus Movie Poster Image
Quiet, talky character drama has exceptional performances.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 104 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Several positive messages about pursuing higher education, the importance of mentor-mentee relationships, and the power of architecture/spaces around you. Communication and empathy are themes. Heavy topics addressed include mortality, parent-child relationships, drug use, and more.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Casey is intelligent, curious, and deep-thinking. Casey loves and cares for her mother so much that she put off college indefinitely to make sure her mom didn't relapse. Jin is encouraging to Casey and sees how much potential she has; he doesn't want her to waste her talent. Diversity within the cast.


Quick shot of a man sprawled out on the floor.


A man kisses a married woman; she soon asks him to stop. One character tells another that he must be romantically interested in a younger woman, but he denies it. Two co-workers sort of flirt, but nothing happens between them. Casey and Jin get emotionally close over the course of their time together, but their relationship remains platonic.


Infrequent: "s--theads," "s--t."



Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Casey and Jin both regularly smoke cigarettes. Jin and Elena drink at a bar/restaurant. Discussion of a character's meth addiction.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byjdocomeon March 15, 2020

Intensely beautiful film, not for the simple minded

In an age in which the only things people leave their houses for are bombastic action movies, it is refreshing to watch a carefully written and masterfully craf... Continue reading
Adult Written byBeamyApple September 28, 2020


This might be a weird thing to say considering its Ozu-like, detached style, but Columbus feels like a hug
Teen, 15 years old Written byMalik111 August 6, 2020

Incredible Film.

So beautiful There is swearing but it's not excessive at all. I highly recommend 10/10

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 ...

  • Families can talk about what they think about the main characters in Columbus. Do you consider them role models? What character strengths, if any, do they demonstrate?

  • 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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Character Strengths

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Themes & Topics

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