Minari – Film Review
Cast: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton
Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Synopsis: In the 1980s, a South Korean family who have emigrated to the United States arrive in Arskansas, with the goal of achieving the American dream…
Review: For decades now, the idea of moving to the United States of America, to realise a dream where anyone can accomplish economic success in a society has been sown into the ideals of the country. As the plaque on the statue of Liberty reads “Give me your tired, your poor, yearning to breathe free”. The desire to move to a society where anyone can achieve some sort of economic success is one that many people may have had when emigrating to the USA. Regardless of their circumstances, the notion that people can make it in the “Land of the Free” has been the basis of the American Dream for many decades now. This desire to achieve happiness and prosperity, for yourself and your family, is the basis for this semi-biographical film, recounting the young life of director Lee Isaac Chung.
After moving to the United States a decade ago, Jacob (Yeun) and his wife Monica (Ye-ri) spent many a years working in a chicken factory in California, separating male and female chicks. However, despite him being very good at this job, Jacob finds the work tedious and strives for something more rewarding. Hence, the Yi family have now uprooted from California to live in rural Arkansas. With this move, and with the purchase of his own patch of land, Jacob aims to operate a successful farm business, growing Korean vegetables to supply to nearby businesses. This is where Jacob strives to achieve his own version of the American dream, but his ambition doesn’t fill his wife Monica with the same passion that motivates Jacob every single day.
There’s something that feels very sincere and genuine about Chung’s script, and the performances from the entire cast match are all equally heartfelt and genuine, to the extent that you can it sometimes feels like the events being depicted on screen are real life. Leading the way is Steven Yeun’s heartfelt performance as this family’s patriarch. As the head of this, family Jacob has to walk that line between being the loving father, but has to balance that with the need to to be stern and authoritative where necessary, especially when it comes to his youngest child David. Their father-son dynamic is the heartbeat that drives the film forward, and Alan Kim’s performance is equally special. He is both simultaneously hilarious and mischievous, especially when it comes to his interactions with his grandmother (portrayed superbly by Youn Yuh-jung).
But through all that hilarity, what really makes the audience sympathise towards David is a condition involving his heart that could become a problem in later life. Because of this plight, it makes you really sympathetic towards him, especially as it’s one that proves to be one of the many sticking points between Jacob and Monica. There are plenty of tender moments that he shares not just with his grandma, but his parents, and his sister, as well. Indeed, the performances of the entire cast match that sincerity but all put in sincere performances that make you care about the plight of the family. Some may find issue with the film’s pacing but while it may have one or two momentary lapses, Chung clearly is taking his time to tell the story of this family, and allow the events to play out as naturally as possible.
The themes of family, and identity have been explored on screen plenty of times throughout the years. Yet, despite this genre being a well worn one, Chung captures these themes in a rich and nuanced manner, that gives Minari its own identity. Furthermore, the score from Emile Mosseri captures the heart-warming and sincere vibe of the film perfectly. It may seem like a simple story, but there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface that gives the film significant emotional depth. The idea of someone moving to America to achieve their own version of the American Dream might feel somewhat tainted given the treatment that immigrants have received in recent times. Yet despite that, Chung’s film is a hopeful warm embrace that will hopefully bring some much needed warmth and happiness to all who watch it during these unprecedented and troubled times we’re all currently living in.
Filled with sincere and heartfelt performances, Minari tells a universal story that is filled with captured with genuine warmth and sincerity that should resonate with everyone the world over.