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VOD Review: Minari

February 26, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

A Korean-American family in the 1980s moves to Arkansas in search of a better life in filmmaker Lee Issac Chung’s deeply personal yet universally relatable Minari.

The father, Jacob (Steven Yeun), moves his wife Monica (Yeri Han) and their two kids Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan Kim) into a mobile home on a chunk of land that he has purchased. He has big dreams of operating a farm, but natural circumstances, from draughts to being unable to afford water, get in the way, which leads to increased tensions within his marriage.

Much of this is seen through the eyes of their young son David, and the heart of Minari comes from the relationship between the boy and his grandma (Yuh-jung Youn), who moves into the mobile home with them. David clashes with her at first, accusing her of not being a “real grandma,” before the two of them start to form a special bond.

First off, Minari is a really touching film, filled with small moments that resonate in a big way. Every little detail of the movie feels so beautifully and lovingly observed by Chung who, through a mix of gentle humour and great sensitivity, does a wonderful job capturing the feeling of being an outsider trying to fit in. Take, for example, a scene where the family goes to church for the first time in an attempt to blend into traditional American life. The white families view them with a sort of curiosity, the camera lingering on the face of a young boy (Jacob Wade) as he stares at them. This boy will nonetheless become a friend for David, schooling him in the uniquely American ways of childhood debauchery.

The performances are all wonderful, with every member of the ensemble cast believably developing and portraying the bond between this family. Yeun, the breakout star of the South Korean film Burning, does excellent and beautifully understated work as a father trying desperately to provide for his family, his pride bruised when he is unable to. Yuh-jung Youn steals every scene as the feisty grandma, delivering a marvellously funny and warm performance that deserves awards recognition. And at the centre of it all is the young actor Kim, who is the true breakout star of the film, delivering one of those completely naturalistic performances by a child actor that feels like a major discovery.

Chung, who also wrote the screenplay for the film, based the story on his own experiences growing up, and it’s in the specificity of Minari that it feels so universal. While some awards groups have incorrectly placed Minari as a “foreign” film, it’s as American as they come. This is an immigrant story, yes, but it’s also a timeless working class story about the American Dream, and a family trying to make it on their own in the land of opportunity at the height of capitalism’s heyday during the Reagan era. It offers a poignant mix of emotion and humour that is positively rich with feeling.

Minari is now available to watch on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

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