Director(s): Lee Isaac Chung
Writer(s): Lee Isaac Chung
Cast: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Yuh-jung Youn
Synopsis: A Korean family moves to Arkansas to start a farm in the 1980s.
The American Dream. Up until recently, there was a strong idea of what the American dream really was. Now, people think of the American dream as anyone who works hard, gets a good job, and makes a lot of money. That isn’t what the dream was all about. The REAL American dream was the idea that anyone could come to this country in search of a better life for themselves or their families. It was the notion that no matter where you were or what situation you were in, America had the opportunities for success. This idea was never something for Americans but was for immigrants who believed there was more for them than the life they were stuck in. It was never about getting rich or famous, but having a life that was better than the one you were living.
Minari might be one of the best examples of the American dream that I have ever seen on film. It is a beautifully captured work of art that will be considered as important as it is good. Minari tells the story of a Korean family who travels from California to Arkansas in the 1980s in search of a better life.
Lee Isaac Chung is all over this film from a directing standpoint and manages to examine real ideas of family and the American dream in such an intimate and personal way. You can tell the influences he has on this film from a substance standpoint and can truly feel the personal connection here between an artist and their art.
Because that is what Minari really is, art. This is a beautiful cinematic achievement that will be remembered for years to come. The ever stacking layers of the story involving loving your elders, family, making a name for yourself, it doesn’t matter that the film is mostly subtitled, anyone and everyone should be able to attach themselves to the material and put themselves in these same shoes. It is a powerful thing to be able to tell such a vividly emotional story about a minority and make it to where no matter who you are you can empathize with people. It is a human understanding film like very few movies can really pull off, and I tip my hat to Chung for being able to make such an intimate movie.
And the intimacy of the film is held so highly by the cast across the board. Alan S. Kim, Yeri Han, and Noel Cho do a fabulous job of providing a great depth and understanding to every scene they are in. Especially the kid actors who had to pull off a very deep performance loaded with pathos that would be hard for anyone to pull off. It was a beautiful sight. Will Patton also stood out in what is easily his best performance I have ever seen him give. He really gives his all and delivers a high caliber performance of a man clearly in pain who has devoted his life and his everything to the Lord.
But Steven Yeun and Yuh-jung Youn were the brightest stars of the ensemble. These two attacked and delivered every moment of screen time they had. Yeun’s determination was enthralling and Youn’s charm was glowing. Each of these two actors had their moments to shine and more, and each of them delivered. One scene towards the end of the film brings in so much emotional weight for these two characters, and the way they deliver in their specific situations is something out of a novel. They encompass both ends of the spectrum with Yeun being the American Dream and Youn being the family dynamic. It is poetic and powerful, and they are people we need to be talking about for the rest of the year.
This movie is movingly subtle, almost in the same way that Nomadland was, just not that slow. It is a slow film about a family and trying to find their place in the world. A place they can call their own and thrive in. The technicals of the films stand out as well with Emile Mosseri, who delivered one of my favorite scores last year in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, proves he is one of the best composers working today. Similar to San Francisco he delivers an honest and moving score that heightens moments to the absolute extreme. This coupled with some incredible cinematography helped create some of the most breathtaking, heartbreaking, and beautiful scenes of the entire year.
Final: Minari shows the true essence of family and the American dream, told gorgeously by Lee Isaac Chung. The performances are all knockouts, with the standouts being Steven Yeun and Youh-jung Youn, and the score heightens the emotional impact to resounding heights. This film is an intimate look at family, and the fight to become something. It’s brilliant.
Current Tomato Score: 100%
Current Metacritic: 88
Awards Prospects: Picture, Director, Actor, S. Actress, Screenplay, Cinematography, Score,
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.