‘Columbus’ Is a Thoughtful Meditation on Home and Family

When a renowned architecture scholar falls suddenly ill during a speaking tour, his son Jin (John Cho) finds himself stranded in Columbus, Ind. — a small Midwestern city celebrated for its many significant modernist buildings. Jin strikes up a friendship with Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young architecture enthusiast who works at the local library. As their intimacy develops, Jin and Casey explore both the town, its architecture and their conflicting emotions — Jin’s estranged relationship with his father, and Casey’s reluctance to leave Columbus and her mother. “Columbus” also stars Rory Culkin, Michelle Forbes and Parker Posey.

Leo Tolstoy in ‘Anna Karenina’ might have described families best: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. The unhappy families in “Columbus” are no different. Jin reluctantly travels from his job in Seoul back to his hometown of Columbus when his estranged father falls ill. He’s only there out of a sense of obligation. His father is like a stranger to him now. He’s hoping his father isn’t well enough to travel back to Seoul since Korean society dictates that he would have to mourn for his father’s passing.

Casey is a bright teenager who is putting off college to take care of her former meth-addicted mother (Forbes). Her life is completely controlled by guilt and she, perhaps, doesn’t even realize it. She has so thoroughly invested herself as her mother’s caretaker, it has become her entire life. When her librarian coworker Gabriel (Culkin) tries to get to know her, she keeps him at arm’s length.

In any other circumstance, Jin and Casey might never befriend each other. These two lost souls from their unhappy families find each other in a place neither wants to be. Jin is only in Columbus out of familial obligation while Casey is afraid to leave Columbus for the same reason. These circumstances lead to an unexpected and therapeutic friendship.

At one time or another, everyone has felt trapped. You might have felt trapped in a relationship, at a job, or in your hometown. It’s a universal feeling that we have all experienced. These ties can bind even the most disparate personalities. “Columbus” takes the audience on a contemplative journey as Jin and Casey learn to reach out and help each other heal.

The summer movie season is always full of explosions, car chases and comic book adaptations. Sometimes you just need to take a stroll and stop and smell the roses. Or in the case of “Columbus,” you just need to take a stroll and stop and admire the architecture. Who knows? “Columbus” could just be therapeutic for you if you are or have ever felt trapped by life’s circumstances.

Columbus” opens in select theaters Aug. 4.