Definitions of the American Dream can sometimes vary, but when you see it, you know it. An audience can see it clearly in this picture.
“Minari” tells the story of David (Alan Kim), a young boy whose Korean family is moving to Arkansas. His father Jacob (Steven Yeun) and mother Monica (Han Ye-ri) both get positions at a local chicken hatchery for employment, and settle in at a rural home. Along with his parents, David’s family also includes his sister Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and grandmother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung).
As the film goes on, it’s shown that Jacob intended to use his job at the hatchery to get some footing, and that his main plan is to create a farm on his property, where he will grow Korean vegetables. As he plants more crops, Jacob hires a neighbor, Paul (Will Patton), to help with the process. The film follows the family trying to establish their life in Arkansas and the struggles that come with it.
“Minari” is a true slice-of-life film, following the characters daily lives as they try to carve out a piece of America for themselves. It’s an endearing feature to watch unfold, capturing both life in rural America and trying to adjust in a new, unfamiliar area.
What really makes writer/director Lee Isaac Chung’s picture work is how grounded it is. There’s a rawness to the film. The hot Arkansas summers, the difficulty in dealing with setbacks and the ebbs and flows of familial relationships are all brought to life here, enhancing the experience.
There are certainly times when the film slows down a bit too much in the second act, leaving a viewer wanting more captivating developments. Yet the movie as a whole holds an audience’s attention from start to finish, as the viewer is left wanting to know what the family will face next.
The main conflict of the film is the marital relationship between Jacob and Monica. The film handles their marriage quite well, never leaning into melodrama, and instead offers an authentic situation as both characters express their want for their family to have a good life while also carrying disagreements over what’s the best direction.
This is helped greatly by the acting, as both Yeun and Ye-ri give tremendous performances. Joining them in doing award caliber work is Yoh-jung, who’s superb as Soon-ja.
The supporting cast, including young performers Kim and Cho, as well as Patton, also do fine work, rounding out a strong ensemble.
The characters they portray also work thanks to Chung, as this story was actually based on his real life experiences. His craftsmanship is really on display, with a truly beautiful movie with a lot of heart.
“Minari” is a compelling watch that explores the dynamics of an immigrant family in a subtle manner. It gets a bit muddy in the middle but it’s still a strong piece of filmmaking. 4.25 out of 5.