My biggest critique of this movie is that the ending felt too abrupt, but I don’t have a better solution so, maybe I’m the problem, haha. In every other respect, Minari (2020) was remarkable.
The plot of Minari is unassuming: A Korean-American family moves from California to Arkansas in the 1980’s to start a farm and live their American Dream. From there, the humble plot transcends into some really charming storytelling. It’s unexpected, and also wholly authentic; and I think there are a couple reasons for that:
#1 Insanely Good Acting & Screenplay
Half way through Minari my husband and I turned to each other and agreed that every actor in the movie thus far was blowing our minds. The father, Jacob Yi, is played by Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, Okja), He’s optimistic and determined to make this farm a success.
His wife, Monica (Yeri Han), isn’t so sure it’s going to be worth it. Their trailer home in the backcountry is less than ideal, and she’s worried about having enough income for the medical expenses of their son, David, who has a heart murmur. David is 7 years old and his older sister, Anne, is about 9. David can be mischievous, but overall he and his sister are good children.
Together with his eccentric, religion-obsessed neighbor, Paul (Will Patton), Jacob gets to work starting his farm. Of course, creating a farm in the middle of nowhere is a major feat, so trials and tribulations ensue. Meanwhile, the tension between Jacob and his wife escalates, and the two fight more often, which upsets the children. Both Jacob and Monica work as chicken sexers (a.k.a. they sort baby chicks by whether they’re male or female) to make money for living expenses while the crops get going. But Monica is concerned that the children need a babysitter. To appease her and also help her feel more at peace in her new home, Jacob suggests Monica’s mother, Soonja, comes to live with them. Soonja’s presence among the Yi family fills an essential gap in this story. She’s brash, silly, forthcoming, and a bit wild. Soonja brings a special personality to the community of characters and it is her influence that evolves everything.
I remember hearing about this film via an article highlighting Oscar contenders, so I looked it up. Minari was nominated for 219 awards, including Best Picture at the Oscars. It won 108 of these nominations, but only one of those was an Oscar. That Oscar, and many of the other film awards it scooped up, went to Yuh-Jung Youn for her supporting role of Soonja. I mean, I can see why; her acting was totally enthralling. Actually, all of these actors really impressed the pants off of me, and while I credit their skills, I think the screenplay also played a big part in that.
It was written by Lee Isaac Chung who, interestingly, is a Korean-American who grew up in rural Arkansas. He was also involved in the directing and cinematography of Minari, which explains why the movie felt so genuine and truthful – its vibe was probably derived in-part from lived experiences.
#2: Dreamy Music & Cinematography
The music and cinematography in Minari really tied it all together. The score was dreamy and delicate, and the nature-based visuals were soft and thoughtful. The music fit so well that I consciously noticed its effects as I was watching the film. It brought everything to life and created an earthy, magical ambiance.
#3: Not Depressing
So, we know David has a heart murmur. As soon as we learned that I thought, “nope”.
We also know it’s the 1980’s in Arkansas so, hello potential racism. While this film could have depressed the hell out of everyone, they chose a less predictable route. Some race issues were addressed, but subtly. David’s health concerns were also sprinkled into the story, keeping us alert and concerned about his current state. But overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the path they took and was surprised by the turn of events. It was not at all what I expected. While moments of Minari were distressing, there was nothing blatantly depressing about it. I appreciated that.
Minari was just an all around lovely and heartfelt film. Its title refers to a plant that is popularly consumed in Korea, often in kimchi and soups. Soonja brings the minari seeds with her when she comes to stay with the Yi’s and plants them in a nearby creek bed. As you watch the movie, you’ll understand the significance of minari and the symbolism it offers us as viewers.
Will Jacob and Monica be OK, or will their marriage fall apart? Will David’s heart murmur alter his future? Will Soonja ever stop her silliness and figure out how to be a “real grandma” to David and Anne? Does any of that even matter??? Just as the minari grows, these characters must grow too, and their evolution is worth the watch.