Friday, February 19, 2021

Minari: Movie Review

The American dream, as it tries to tear apart one family.
Minari is a curious film as it tackles small issues with a big brush. It feels like a movie that is going to explore racism in middle America in the 1980s, but instead spends most of its time on the family dynamics of Korean immigrants. Originally settling in a city in California approx. a decade earlier, a husband and wife and their two kids have moved to a farm in rural Arkansas.   2020

Directed by: Lee Isaac Chung

Screenplay by: Lee Isaac Chung

Starring: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han

It’s a small movie that is no doubt universal; a slow movie that just wants you to spend time with this family. Jacob (Steven Yeun) wants to be a farmer. They purchased a large plot of land to turn into a farm with a nearby creek running through a small forest - purchased with the help of a bank, aka the American dream. Wife Monica (Yeri Han) isn’t convinced that this is the right move for them. The house is small, not all that nice to look at, it’s in the country far from friends, far from their church, far from things. The two kids are also very different. David is young and is excited about all the things to see and do on their property, copy dad and build a farm. Anne is a bit older and more pragmatic – they have already lost so much of their Korean heritage, she barely remembers Korea to begin with considering she was a baby and this move just takes them even farther from the people they at least had something in common with.

Images courtesy of Elevation Pictures.

Much of the movie is the growing separation of the four individuals. Dad spends all day and all night on the farm, it’s a struggle with a lack of water. Mom goes to work at a local Korean community center raising chickens, and then comes home to find they are even farther in debt. David and Anne are mostly left to fend for themselves, until Grandma, at Mom’s insistence, comes to live with them.

Minari is a character drama. It is entirely about how their current situation impacts all of five of them – they may be family but that doesn’t mean they see the world the same way or want the same things out of it. Some family members are oblivious to the emotional pain of others until it is too late, some are reaching for what they could have and others are yearning for something they once had while others are caught in between.

There is an emotional connection to each of the characters, but it also has strange pacing. When you think something big is going to happen, nothing does, and then when things come to a boil, they start boiling over. It’s quiet and slow but also very true to the experience of so many American families, especially those who came from somewhere else and left a piece of them behind.