Minari: Another Review. By Nick Boyd.
“Minari” is a deeply moving Korean assimilation drama about a family trying to make it in rural Arkansas in the 1980s. It is based in part on writer, director Lee Isaac Chung’s childhood.
Working at a hatchery, the father and husband named Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) does what he can to provide for his wife Monica (who works alongside him) and two kids David and Anne, who are living in a trailer home on an expanse of land. With little experience as a farmer under his belt, it is Jacob’s American dream to escape the monotony of the hatchery by making a go of farming his own crops, and along the way, have his children be proud of their dad’s success. David is the more curious, mischievous child, while his sister Anne is the more levelheaded one. Jacob’s goal is to grow enough Korean produce to sell to vendors. While Jacob remains on the hopeful side of what the future holds, his wife Monica is disappointed and pessimistic about their new life in the Ozarks.
To help tend the land, Jacob hires an eccentric, very religious man (who carries a life-sized cross on his back through town every Sunday) named Paul (Will Patton), who is a Korean War veteran and the town pariah. Meanwhile, to provide assistance in the home, Monica’s mother Soon-ja travels from South Korea. Her grandson David is disappointed that she is not the typical grandma he had imagined – she does not bake and she swears. “Grandma smells like Korea,” he proclaims disdainfully upon her arrival. In addition, she shares a room with David, much to his displeasure. Through her playfulness and energy, she is able to provide occasional humorous moments and she is one of the most endearing characters in the film. Her calming presence upon her arrival is able to lessen the continual tension between the parents’ marital turmoil.
Even while trying to fit into their community such as by going to church, the family makes it a point to honor and uphold their South Korean traditions in their lives. Hard work, values, and self-sufficiency are emphasized to the children. The Yi’s outsiderness is emphasized in their interactions with the local church. Comprised mainly of Caucasians, some of the congregants seem bewildered by their new Asian members. However, in a nice gesture, an inquisitive boy (who had initially asked David, “Why is your face so flat?”) befriends David and invites him over to his house.
The naturalistic rhythms of the movie are reminiscent of the magnificent “Boyhood.” While there is not much plot in either, the mood and richly drawn characters pull the viewer in.
The film depicts the struggles the family has financially and maritally and the nuances of small-town living. The acting and writing is understated and quietly powerful with the emotions of determination and faith palpably felt.
Exploring heavy subject matter, the picture shows us a microcosm of the American Dream in vivid detail and creates an indelible family portrait.
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