A tender and sweeping story about what roots us, Minari follows a Korean-American family that moves to an Arkansas farm in search of their own American Dream. The family home changes completely with the arrival of their sly, foul-mouthed, but incredibly loving grandmother. Amidst the instability and challenges of this new life in the rugged Ozarks, Minari shows the undeniable resilience of family and what really makes a home.
These days, it’s rare to find a film that is strikingly beautiful and remarkably peaceful even if its characters face some real-world problems. Perhaps my favorite film that is like this is Edward Yang’s Yi Yi, which is a complete masterwork. Some may be put off by its nearly three-hour running time and while it was definitely something that intimidated me before watching it, I ended up watching the film and after it was over, thought “Wait, it’s over? I could have waited another three hours of that!”.
Another great example of a quiet and peaceful film that packs a punch was 2019’s The Farewell. It stumbled in some areas, but it nevertheless resonated with me in the long haul because of its beauty and its mesmerizing lead performance from Awkwafina, who absolutely deserved to be nominated for an Academy Award that year, but unfortunately, she wasn’t.
But as great as Farewell was, I think my favorite meditative movie in the past couple of years just may be Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, which follows an incredibly simple premise and an ordinary Korean family living in America, and for some that may sound boring. Some people may want there to be some major moment in this movie and some are going to want it to be an intense drama. And although there are a couple of scenes with intense drama, it’s primarily a peaceful, hilarious, and emotional look at one family’s desperate attempts to live a happy and easy life when things are not looking up for them.
Sometimes it’s just a breath of fresh air to watch a movie about ordinary people living ordinary lives. Trust me – I love comic book movies and horror flicks just as much as the next guy, but after a while, you want to watch something that feels like it could actually happen in our reality. Paterson is another great example of this. It’s a movie in which some people will say that nothing happened, and that’s not necessarily wrong. There is never that one scene that will be talked about online for years to come or anything. It’s simply a movie about ordinary people living their life.
Minari does this expertly. It really gets you invested in this family and it makes you want to root for them all the way through to the end. And because they feel so real and genuine, every time these characters go through a difficult time, it hurts so much more. You recognize how stressful their lives are and you just want them to catch a break.
Our ideal lives would be filled with endless happiness and peace for the rest of our days, but the sad reality is that that cannot always be the case. Life will always have its ups and downs no matter how hard we work to try to change that. The characters in Minari have to learn this the hard way and it’s extremely emotional to watch their journies unfold.
But it’s not an overly dreary and dour movie. It boasts a ton of humor that never feels forced or unwelcome. There is one scene, in particular, involving the son, David (Alan Kim) and the grandmother Soonja (Youh Yuh-jung) that was one of the most hilarious scenes of the year and the beauty of it is that its such a simple joke but it was executed so well. A lot of the film’s humor is like that.
It’s no wonder why it’s so easy to get invested in Minari, really. It does nearly everything so right and has very few faults along the way. Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead fame proves that he is more than just Glenn Rhee with this powerful and emotional performance that I won’t soon forget. Alan Kim also delivers one of the best performances I have seen from a child actor in quite some time. He is, in many ways, the heart and soul of Minari and so obviously, they needed to cast the perfect person for the role, and I think it’s more than safe to say that Kim was the right choice. Minari is a total homerun and one of the most peaceful yet engrossing movies of 2020.
Overall Grade: A
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic elements and a rude gesture
Directed by: Lee Isaac Chung
Distributed by: A24
Release Date: February 12, 2021
Running Time: 115 minutes