PG Score: 7.5/10
Minari was released in theaters on 2/12, and will be available for streaming on 2/26
As it softly wanders towards the point of fruition, Writer/Director Lee Isaac Chung’s latest project may appear rudimentary at first. However, the seeds Minari plants early on reach far greater depths as they permeate the rich soil of the deeply personal story.
The plot focuses on Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) and his family as they relocate to Arkansas in the 1980s to start a farm. As they encounter frequent hardships, the strength of their bond is tested.
Chung supplies a detailed representation of immigrant life that works on multiple levels. Throughout the course of the two-hour runtime, the movie presents clashing perspectives from the members of the Yi family. Much of the internal conflict that arises stems from the opposing viewpoints of Jacob and his wife, Monica (Yeri Han) on the viability of maintaining a farm on their own. While the shared desire to keep their household intact is substantial, the ensuing tension widens a rapidly growing divide. After working so hard for a new life in the United States, the Yi’s threshold for strife is higher than most but still has a breaking point. Chung excels at showing every angle to ensure a complete picture is painted for the viewer.
Resilience is a key component to the overarching theme and surfaces in several forms. This adds complexity to the mostly well-developed characters and further speaks to the immigrant experience at the heart of the movie. The grit of Jacob and Monica is most apparent but their children, David and Anne (played by newcomers Alan Kim and Noel Cho), are subjected to their fair share of tribulations as well. When their grandmother, Soonja (Yuh-jung Youn) comes into the fold, an added layer is thrown into the mix and the subsequent dynamic is undoubtedly one of the film’s highlights. Chung utilizes a careful hand in providing an intimate impression of each character and (despite their differences) their cooperative devotion to the family.
From a technical standpoint, Minari is gorgeous. The lush landscapes and immersive locales of rural America are captured in all their majestic glory. Plentiful vistas of sprawling farmland, the soothing resonance of a flowing stream, and palpable summer heat in the town church all make for a rewarding viewing experience. The bright lighting blends in beautifully with the natural aesthetic. Every aspect of the cinematography boosts the sense of wonder evident throughout the entire film. Director of Photography Lachlan Milne is owed heaps of praise for his mesmerizing camerawork.
Steven Yeun delivers his most impressive performance to date as Jacob. The actor captures every side to the nuanced head of the family and convincingly conveys the transformation that occurs. Yeun exhibits significant range in his portrayal and proves that he can successfully lead a cast in a dramatic role. Hopefully, his portrayal will afford him similar opportunities going forward.
Yeri Han’s depiction of the ever-serious Monica is also notable. She does not miss a beat as Jacob’s passionate, yet troubled wife and has strong chemistry with Yeun. The talented actress displays her character’s deep-seated disapproval of her family's newfound farming prospects remarkably well and is involved in many of the film’s more intense exchanges.
Yuh-jung Youn is the standout of the supporting cast as the loving grandmother, Soonja. She provides welcomed comic relief to Minari and sprinkles in a healthy dose of dramatic prowess when necessary. Will Patton is relatively entertaining as the zany Paul, who helps Jacob on his farm. The acting debuts of Alan Kim and Noel Cho are encouraging as both are compelling in their respective roles. Unfortunately, Cho’s Anne is given insufficient screen time and feels underdeveloped compared to her on-screen brother.
A Lackluster Ending to a Solid Film
Most of the movie connects on an emotional level through effective character development and offering a fulfilling close-up of a hard-working family’s struggle. However, the third act fails to achieve the same impact as what comes before it. The ending (while still decent) does not have the lasting effect expected given the excellent buildup.
Apart from a somewhat disappointing finish, Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari puts down wholesome roots that extend well beyond the fertile cinema that covers them.