Writer/Director Lee Isaac Chung has a lot to say about the American immigrant's experience in his new lovely, poetic film, "Minari."
Jacob (Steven Yeun) is intent on living the American Dream. Of Korean descent, he and his wife, Monica (Yeri Han) and their small children, Anna (Noel Kate Cho) and David (the adorable Alan S. Kim) move to Arkansas, having purchased a new mobile home and several acres of land. Jacob sees the potential in the open land and plans to farm it. Monica on the other hand, is not at all happy with Jacob's passion...she's homesick and also wonders why her husband picked a remote piece of property instead of living closer to a town where there are other Korean immigrants, or closer to the hatchery where they both took on a thankless job of separating young chicks by sex.
To please his wife, they send for her mother, Soonja (Yuh-jung Youn) to come live with them. Soonja is a firecracker, the sort of zany grandma who is so quirky you wonder if she's playing for the kids' attention, or if she actually has a screw loose. David even tells her at one point that she is "not a real grandma" and he believes this whole-heartedly..."real grandma"'s bake cookies and knit. The two form a playful rivalry (at least playful from grandma's side) and her presence in the family sets forth the film's central generational conflict.
With sweeping, mesmerizing cinematography and honest, soulful performances (Yeun, Han and Yeun all deserve award consideration), "Minari" doesn't just talk about the American Dream, it shows what it looks like to pursue it. Set in the 1980s, Jacob's family faces many challenges as he faces his future head-on, while trying not to crumble to the crosswinds created by his wife's own needs and wants. They risk everything to gain everything. But much like the wild "minari" plant that Soonja plants in the side of a swampy riverbed, sometimes its more important to grow and survive than it is to always be striving for perfection or beauty. Chemistry can't be forced, it can only occur when conditions are right.
"Minari" is a meaningful, emotional experience, one that encapsulates the American immigrant's journey and search for happiness...happiness that might already be in their possession, obtainable if just given the freedom and space to blossom.
Run Time: 1 hour 55 minutes.
Starring: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Yuh-jung Youn, Alan S. Kim.
Written and Directed by Lee Isaac Chung ("Abigail Harm," "Lucky Life," "Munyurangabo").
"Minari" is available in limited release on Friday, December 11th, and wide on Friday, February 12th, 2021.
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