Video essayist Kogonada makes an auspicious debut with this low-key, deliberate drama starring John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson. It greatly benefits from their noticeable chemistry and effective collaboration as well as the writer/director's with cinematographer Elisha Christian capturing an 'asymmetrical balance.'
Columbus has a nice connection to relationships through architecture as it's set in U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's Indiana hometown. It may take awhile for audiences to feel the tension in what is very conversational, but in a good way, akin to probably at times the way Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy engaged their characters for Richard Linklater in the Before trilogy.
Cho is known in the mainstream for roles as Harold and Sulu in Star Stek, but excels in a different light as Jin, a Korean-born, U.S.-raised man stuck in the eponymous city when his estranged architectural father collapses during a seminar and winds up in a coma.
Richardson is young adult Casey who studies and aspires to be an architect, but is in the same city as the older Jin focusing on being the caretaker for her working-class recovering drug addict mother (Michelle Forbes). The literature translator meets the young woman who feels the necessity to stay with her mother, and the two check out a variety of edifices. In a way, like the poignant Once (and its unassuming, relatable Irish characters), they learn through one another what really is important to each of their futures.
Columbus may be bittersweet and desirable for those able to let story and character slowly take hold over them as the "healing" power of architecture has more significance than expected. Casey learns about Jin's viewpoint about his native traditions which may be surprising, but gives her a more positive outlook while he has his own feelings about her familial commitment. Also, figuring in this affecting, well-internalized piece are Parker Posey (Café Society) as a colleague of Jin's father whom Jin had an infatuation on during his youth. More so, Rory Culkin (Scream 4) as a Doctoral student friend of Casey.