Jacob (Steven Yeun) draws himself to the Earth. To the rich, nutrient filled dirt of the Arkansas land he has just purchased. 50 acres to be exact. Here, on this land, Jacob sees his future. An opportunity to prove to himself, and his family, that he can succeed. And so Jacob gets to work.
This is the basis on which Minari tells its story. A story of an immigrant family striving to do more than settle with the jobs they have. To make more for themselves, and leave a legacy. Director Lee Isaac Chung makes a tender and emotionally powerful film that resonates with you long after the credits have rolled. Based on the directors personal experiences growing up, Minari has so much authenticity and charm.
Steven Yeun’s Jacob is the head of the family. He is at the heart of the story, along with his youngest son David, played by Alan Kim. The pair provide different perspectives in this change in lifestyle for the family. Jacob puts a lot on the line for his farm, and we see this through the struggle of his wife, Monica (Yeri Han). She grounds Jacob in reality, and any scene the two have together in the film is filled with emotional heft. Moreover, we have Yuh-jung Youn as Soonja, the grandmother of the family who comes a little under halfway through the runtime. She makes a great foil to David, the youngest who never experienced Korean culture having lived in America his whole life.
Lastly, Noel Cho as Anne, Davids sister and oldest child of the family. Her role is more of a subtle one that speaks volumes with what little it shows of her character and her relationship with David.
Overall, this cast is a phenomenal round up of actors from Director Chung. Together, they breathe life into the family that carries the story that Minari is telling. That is, the quintessential American story through the lens of new, unapologetic eyes- that being young David. Of course, Minari tells this story to a rousing degree of success. Watching David watch his family attempt to make a garden of Eden of their own is a thing of beauty. Yeun’s Jacob, unapologetically determined and hard working, inspires. No detail is left unseen as the stress of his labors takes a toll on himself and his family.
Minari is deeply rooted in the Earth and the possibilities of hope and pain that can come from it. Jacob tries to strike a balance between family and his dreams. Moreover, he sees his dreams as means to support his family for generations. However, his intentions are not all altruistic. Jacob’s hard work and aggressive attitude stem from a place of pride. Of wanting to finally succeed at something, to show David and Anne that their father isn’t a failure.
Watching David work with his father and watch him work make for some really tender scenes in the movie. All this happens with Jacob and his family while they try to assimilate in a small American town in Arkansas. Minari shows every aspect of this family’s story and does justice to each layer of storytelling that it has to offer.
Another minor addition is Will Patton as Paul, a spiritual man who works with Jacob on his farm. Paul is always there giving help and praying over the family. At times unsettling, Patton still manages to put us at ease by showing the authenticity to his odd mannerisms and strange behaviors. They come from a place of sincerity. His contributions to the family are beautiful and give a unique perspective on friendships and new bonds in the face of the unknown.
The score composed by Emile Mosseri accentuates the rest of the tender feel of the movie, and even elevates it at several moments. Moreover, the dream-like instrumentals reinforce the idea of what the family is after, the American dream and a slice of Eden to call their own. The score works well with the imagery of the garden and American landscape of trees and plant-life. Vocals in certain tracks are the beautiful finishing touch to already make Minari have one of the best scores of the year.
Minari is all about family. Much like the farm Jacob tries to manage and work on, it is always on the edge of falling apart, or simply not working out. Little problems arise, both in the farm and in Jacob’s family. They are mirrors of each other in the narrative arc in the film. By the latter half of the film, you may be convinced it won’t work out. However, another narrative thread picks up by the time the films ending comes along.
Minari seeds, planted by the grandmother along with David, have taken root. The plant, native to Korea, is strong and sturdy. It will grow almost anywhere. It is a sweet plant too. So is the observation that Jacob makes, as he picks it with his son David. Much like the plant that the film is titled after, Jacob’s family is sturdier than we are lead to believe. Strong and resilient, not easily swayed by financial crisis or other obstacles. By the time the credits roll around, Minari has just solidified the idea of family and love and finding what really matters in the face of tragedy and change. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Grade – 10/10