We are a nation of immigrants. Few who live in the United States can call themselves native Americans. Most were drawn here, or were born to families that were drawn here, because America offered the promise of a better life for those willing to work hard to achieve it.
The last few years have made it easy to lose sight of this basic piece of the American story. Minari, the new drama that’s been nominated for six Academy Awards, lives into that truth. It’s a uniquely American story of struggle and promise, it just happens to focus on a family of Korean immigrants and be shared in a language other than English. But it feels timelier now than ever, especially considering the violence and bigotry being shown to families like the one depicted in the film.
Set in the 1980s, Minari focuses on a family that moves from California to Arkansas for a chance to better their future. Jacob (Steven Yeun) has dreams of building a farm that will allow him to provide for his family, seeing the blank canvas of land in Arkansas as the first step toward a dream. His wife, Monica (Yeri Han), is less certain. They also worry for their son, David (Alan S. Kim), whose heart condition leaves him vulnerable.
When Monica’s mother, Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung), arrives from Korea to help Jacob and Monica balance their duties as parents while working to build their future, she forms a unique bond with Jacob. The family struggles to overcome a number of obstacles, including the hard feelings buried beneath the surface, as they seek to live their dreams.
Director Isaac Lee Chung delivers a powerful and moving film. There are many fun and tender moments, and some difficult emotional climaxes as well. It all weaves together into a beautiful slice of life that holds your attention and leaves you rooting for the family at the center of the story.
Yeun does a nice job in the lead role, a very different kind of performance than the role on The Walking Dead that first brought him national attention. He is one of five men nominated in the lead actor race at the Academy Awards, and in delivers a number of powerful moments.
But the real gems are Kim as young David and Yuh-jung, who was nominated as Best Supporting Actress. Their relationship and dynamic are the heart of this story and one of the most enduring things about the film. I loved their back-and-forth and the way the story pays off in the end. Yuh-jung gives a great performance and should be among the front-runners to win the Academy Award.
This is a beautiful and important story; one I hope many take the time to seek out. Minari is now readily available on video on demand and in theaters as they start to open nationwide. It’s a beautiful story beautifully told and one of the best of this year’s crop of films.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.