This review was originally published 11/3/20
Some stories are timeless. These movies come along with their rich and likable characters and strike a chord with the audience. Moments like these remind us why cinema is oh-so-important. All of a sudden, moments that feel engrained with certain groups emerge as universal experiences. As viewers, the world becomes smaller, we grow closer, and as audiences, we remember, we’re not that different. Minari is a film that fills this powerful bill. Here’s what you need to know.
Minari follows the Yi family as they relocate to Arkansas in the 1980s, following patriarch Jacob’s (Steven Yeun) dream of starting a farm. Life is turned even more topsy-turvy with the arrival of their delightfully unconventional grandmother (Yuh-Jung Youn). Together, the family fights through financial pain, health struggles and heartache as they learn their true life direction. Lee Isaac Chang directs the film from his own script.
In Minari, Chang captures a sweet slice of life from his childhood. His work with this immensely talented cast gives plenty here to love and even more for the audience to become invested. In this, Minari does something incredibly rare. This cast of characters is in their entirety, rich and fully sympathetic, even in their sometimes competing goals. Furthermore, the script is unflinchingly devoted to each of these people. There is such love on the page, leaving no one on-screen feeling like an antagonist or slipping into narrative hindsight.
In fact, it’s virtually impossible to call out any single performance in Minari. This entire cast deserves love. Much has been written in recent days about Steven Yeun’s performance. The actor is best known to audiences thanks to his seven seasons on The Walking Dead.
Yeun shines in Minari, juggling an awful lot in the layered depiction of Jacob. He is not only a husband and a father but also as a Korean and a new American. He takes the character through so much in his complicated mix of identities. We see his hope and aspiration as he begins farming, his hurt when Monica (Yeri Han) can’t see eye to eye with his vision and then the depths of his internal struggles as a man who can’t provide for his family. Yeun has been at the front of many awards gossip of late and he very much deserves to be included in Academy Awards talk.
However, Yeun isn’t the only performer worthy of note here. Han is stunning in her role as the family matriarch, Monica. In the hands of another actress, this part could be annoying or even villainous. Jacob is the fun and optimistic parent, while Monica is the realist. She’s the provider. She’s a mother with her own needs and opinions, and she’s not afraid to share them. That being said, Han injects a true sense of heart and emotion into this woman. Especially in the heart-wrenching third act. It’s impossible to not only feel for her but also identify with her.
Minari is a generational tale. This is a story of immigrants. It is a story of family and childhood. Chang’s script is remarkable because it feels universally capable of connecting with audiences on many levels. Smaller plot points like older sister Anne’s (Noel Cho) feeling that she must protect her family or David’s (Alan S Kim) struggle to get along with the grandmother he doesn’t understand will resonate with a dramatic cross-section of viewers. Simultaneously, the story speaks to a particular Korean experience, striking a particular chord with a group, many of whom are rarely able to see themselves represented on screen.
Meanwhile, Chang gels seamlessly with his visual team to produce a beautiful work of cinema. Cinematographer Lachlan Milne brings a pastoral beauty to the Minari‘s rural Arkansas setting. The film features bright, dreamlike visuals, capturing the hope and love that only a child can muster. Every single frame of this movie is beautifully picturesque and is an absolute pleasure to watch.
Minari is very much the little film that could. It’s been chugging through the festival circuit for almost a year but only recently entered mainstream discussions. This family drama tells a powerful generational tale and is sure to tug on the heartstrings. Fans of The Walking Dead awards season aficionados and film fans alike should make sure to check this one out.
Minari is currently making the festival circuit and looks to be heading for a full release into the holidays.