The coveted “American Dream” we are all chasing doesn’t always have a straight path to success. The road is filled with many zig zags that can cause setbacks, near failures and disappointments if things don’t work out the way it was planned in our head. People invest blood, sweat and tears to make their dreams come true by any means necessary even if that means going bankrupt or alienating the ones you love the most. With Minari, all of that is present throughout screenwriter Lee Isaac Chung’s story in which he also directed and accounts as a semi-autobiography.
Minari’s story focuses on a Korean family of four who immigrated to the United States in the 1980’s in California where father and Mother Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Han Ye-ri) work as Chicken sexers – separating baby chicks by gender. Jacob’s dream is to own his own farm growing Korean vegetables to sell to neighboring states and grocers. Moving the family where life was easier and more comfortable in California to a rural farmland where their new home is on cinderblocks in the middle of nowhere in Arkansas is a big risk that both partners must agree on otherwise a sense of resentment can build up. It’s not the ideal situation for Monica but Jacob sees all the potential in this place because of the dirt – America has the best dirt.
Even though moving across the country is Jacob’s idea, Monica has her strong reservations while still working to keep the family afloat, Minari is seen through David’s (Alan Kim) eyes. David isn’t an ordinary boy; he has heart murmurs that can prove fatal if he over does any type of activity. Watching over David is his sister Anne (Noel Kate Cho) who gets him dressed gets him to church and watches over him when Jacob is out in the field or Monica is working.
“Even if I fail, I have to finish what I started.”
Being on a farm can feel isolating even with the small community around them there’s a sense of loneliness that Chung captures with his direction. Jacob doesn’t feel lonely because he has Paul (Will Patton) helping out with his farm when he isn’t carrying a cross on his shoulders or randomly breaking out in indistinct prayers. It isn’t until Soon-Ja (Youn Yuh-jung), Monica’s mother arrives from Korea that Monica’s sense and the kids sense of loneliness ebbs away. Once she arrives, the tone shifts direction, moods change, and David breaks out of his shell even if Grandma doesn’t know how to bake cookies and curses a lot.
Centering around family, it’s the relationships that stand out the most in Chung’s story. Monica and Jacob’s foundation begins to fracture which serves as the main point of tension the film builds up. The fights are either intense screaming matches or subtle discreet conversations that pours out more emotion than the previous scene that are amplified by Steven and Han Ye-ri’s performances. Monica doesn’t belong in a rural setting – she’s constantly depressed, missing the life of a big city. Monica has every right to feel justified with her feelings. Ever since they started this farm Monica is overworked, she has no friends or a sense of community and has to constantly worry about David’s heart condition on top of another medical emergency that cripples the family’s spirit even further.
As heartbreaking as their relationship is the opposite of the spectrum involves David and his grandma. At first, he’s afraid of her while also having to share a bedroom with her as well. – I’m sure he was thrilled at the idea. And he doesn’t stay quiet about it either “She smells like Korea”, he yells at his mother. The story goes on, their bond begins to form becoming the backbone of Chung’s film. Its rather sweet and charming. She patches David up from a bad cut and has the belief that even with his heart condition, David should still be somewhat active. Their unique points of view are what sets Minari apart from other similar stories.
“Things that hide are more scary and dangerous.”
It’s one thing for a story like Minari’s to inspire those to follow their dreams whatever the cost but Minari has one disaster after the other. There are moments where this family just can’t catch a break especially Jacob. Through all the frustration, taking two steps back after one step forward, Jacob clings to the hope that he will succeed. The last thing he wants is for his family to see him as a failure even giving the option to Monica to leave with David and Anne. Minari is not all pent-up anger and extreme amounts of pressure that’s presented – when the moments of success or happiness comes the emotion is earned in the payoff.
Maybe it’s the simplistic nature of Chung’s script but Minari packs a punch with its less involved dialogue. We don’t need lengthy monologues spoken by Jacob about the American Dream to see his vision and passion for building his farm, but the emotion is there regardless. This is how Chung undeniably understands his characters in this world. With the dialogue as minimalist as it is, Lachlan Milne’s cinematography perfectly captures the human spirit and beautiful landscapes of this rural town during the day and night.
Winning both the U.S Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award last year proves that Minari is a real contender for this upcoming award season. Lee Isaac Chung delivers a powerful story about hope and the American Dream while placing the perspective through the lens of his autobiographical counterpart in David. The result is a film that can bring tears of both pain and joy to your eyes, laughing and celebrating with the Yi’s triumph’s while simultaneously sharing in them at times devastating grief. If I were to rate Minari, I’d rate it a 5 out of 5.
So, tell me, have you seen Minari and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think.
Minari is written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung is Rated PG-13 and has a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Minari was released on February 12, 2021 and has a runtime of 1 hour and 56 minutes. Minari can be purchased by online retailers such as iTunes, Amazon & Google.