Starring Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim, Noel Cho, Yuh-jung Youn, Will Patton
Austin Family Critical Rating: 5 of 5
Austin Family Family-Friendly Rating: 4 of 5
Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari is a lovely portrait of a Korean-American family in 1980s Arkansas, which is a time, place and cultural perspective unique to the filmmaker’s lived experience. It’s that specificity that makes Minari so memorable. Every detail feels utterly authentic.
As the movie opens, the family patriarch Jacob (Steven Yeun) has just purchased a farm in the rural country, with the intent of growing specialty Korean produce. His wife, Monica (Yeri Han), is unimpressed with their mobile home, and both parents wearily take day jobs at a chicken hatchery. Their two children, David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel Cho), slowly adjust to their new surroundings, with David’s heart murmur being a particular concern for the family.
While Jacob works tirelessly on his farm with the help of the devoutly religious Paul (Will Patton, who beautifully eschews any preconceived stereotype we might have of a southern Pentecostal), Monica integrates the family into the local community by becoming a part of the church. The family mischief-maker, surprisingly, is Monica’s mother, Soonya (Yuh-jung Youn), who comes to live with them shortly after their move. She shares a bedroom with David, and many of the film’s best scenes involve the grandma and grandson roaming the farm together. David regularly tells Soonya she’s not a “real grandma,” a jab that would feel hurtful if Soonya didn’t always tease him right back.
Minari excels at keeping us engrossed in the personal journeys of each lead character, never giving any family member short shrift. The natural arcs of these stories – particularly the relationship between David and Sonya, and Jacob’s relentless pursuit to make his farm a success – have deeply emotional and unexpected ends. There’s real poignancy in the film’s depiction of an immigrant family attempting to create a home in an unfamiliar land.
I thought often of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011) while watching Minari – both films represent the best kind of personal filmmaking, in which universality is achieved through specificity. Minari is a kind, joyous and big-hearted movie, and one that is already resonating with American audiences.
The film is rated PG-13, though I can’t think of anything truly objectionable in the movie. This is an excellent picture for families with teens. Minari is now playing in several cinemas in the Austin area, and it’s also available to rent via distributor A24’s Screening Room or via Amazon.
Review by Jack Kyser, a graduate of Austin High School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.