It is March 2021. No, I am not talking about us marking one year from the start of the global pandemic. Neither am I talking about turning our clocks forward again for daylight savings. I want to state that it is March 2021 and this means that it is time films start buzzing around the Academy Awards. After reviewing Jallikattu and Sound of Metal, let’s talk about a film that is a contender for six Academy Awards including ‘Best Picture’ – Minari.
Minari is an American drama written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung that chronicles the life of Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) and his Korean family that moves to Arkansas in pursuit of the American dream. Jacob Yi plans to produce Korean vegetables for vendors in Dallas. In order to compensate for buying huge farmland, Jacob buys a non-functioning trailer for his family to live in. However, his wife Monica Yi (Han Ye-ri) is not too pleased with this arrangement for they are too far from the main city, given that their son David (Alan Kim) has a rare heart condition. The drama in Yi’s family only increases when Monica invites her mother, Soon-Ja (Youn Yuh-Jung), to look after their children.
Before I talk about the actors and the film, I have to talk about the person behind the camera – Lee Isaac Chung, who on the cusp of retiring from filmmaking and having accepted a teaching job at the University of Utah, decided to give filmmaking a last shot. Inspired by Willa Cather [Pulitzer Prize-winning US author], who said her life began when she stopped admiring and started remembering, Chung told himself, “I needed to make it very personal and throw in everything I was feeling.” Chung decided to draw inspiration from his own life. He took cues from the challenges faced by his family as immigrants and began writing the semi-autobiographical film Minari.
Coming to the actors, each actor brought a different level of craftsmanship to this film. From Yeun‘s alpha-male character to Ye-ri‘s protective maternal instinct, I couldn’t find a single flaw in any actors performances. Still, if I had to pick my favorite characters, they have to be Youn Yuh-Jung, Will Patton, and Alan Kim. Yuh-Jung portrays the grandmother. She is set in her own ways and refuses to understand the modern way of living. Yet, there is an innocence in her acting, making one nostalgic about their own grandmother. Will Patton plays the role of Paul, an eccentric character who helps Jacob in his field. Patton provides comic relief in the story by being the odd-man-out in the mix of a Korean family. Lastly, Alan Kim plays the role of the son who has a heart condition. Despite being just 7-years old, Kim has done a phenomenal job in his performance and he is definitely a star in the making.
Minari is an aesthetically beautiful film. At no point in time do you root for any one particular character but instead, you root for the ‘simple wins’ in this film. There is a feeling of nostalgia in the movie because you witness a vulnerability in every character. Everyone is trying to adjust themselves to new surroundings as immigrants.
Speaking of nostalgia, for all the Oscar buffs, Minari may bring a different sense of deja-vu given Parasite‘s accolades last year. However, let me be the first to say that Minari is nothing like Parasite. The mood board of Parasite rises and dips throughout the film, whereas Minari maintains the same mood throughout. If anything, Minari reminded me of Lulu Wang‘s ”The Farewell” which emphasizes the strength of the family bond amidst challenging circumstances.
I also think Minari would receive a lot of attention given the recent unfortunate Atlanta shooting and incidents of racism against Asian Americans. However, Minari does serve as a beautiful reminder about the sacrifices that the immigrant families go through in order to find a better life for their families. After all, isn’t that what the American dream is all about?!
Reviewed by Puneet Ruparel