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Film Review: Minari

4 April 21 words: George White

Minari has received countless nominations and tonnes of awards, but does it win the coveted approval of LeftLion Screen Co-Editor George White? Very much so...

Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Starring: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim
Running time: 115 minutes

Nominated for six Academy Awards, winner of Best Motion Picture - Foreign Language at the Golden Globes and dubbed “very nice!” by IMDb user boratsgdiyev, it’s safe to say the response to Minari has been overwhelmingly positiveand it’s clear to see why. A heartfelt and tender study of one family’s pursuit of the American Dream, this film is equal parts enjoyable and powerful, and it will be no surprise if it turns some of those Oscar nominations into wins later this month. 

Minari follows Jacob (Steven Yeun), a Korean farmer who buys a plot of land in 1980s Arkansas, as he struggles to save his marriage and support his family. Taking strong cues from the childhood of writer-director Lee Isaac Chung, this intimate tale of a man’s quest to make a better life for his family feels raw and honest throughout.

Yeun has picked up major plaudits for his work in this moviefinally earning an Oscar nod that many would argue is long overdueand the hype is certainly well-deserved. As Jacob’s plan for a life of happiness and security is put to the test, Yeun puts in a phenomenally complex and nuanced performance. Chung keeps the script deliberately light on dialogue, preferring to use the talent of his cast to provide the audience with unspoken messages, and Yeun nails it at every turnsaying so much while saying so little.

Yet, in many ways, this isn’t Yeun’s film. His character is the key decision-maker, and the key driver of the narrative, but he plays a less major role than some might expect. Instead, the film focuses on Jacob’s young son David (Alan S. Kim) and how he navigates the experience of his new life in the middle of nowhere. 

Providing a lens into Chung’s experience growing up, David is a true bundle of joyas well as an absolute nuisancewith Kim putting in a delightful performance at the inconceivably young age of seven. David’s relationship with his father feels authentic and uplifting, with this little lad desperate to support his father’s pursuit of a more comfortable life.

This film is poignant yet enjoyable, featuring dazzling performances and an utterly splendid script

The youngster also reluctantly develops a heartwarming relationship with grandma Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn), the pair’s dynamic providing plenty of joyously amusing moments as they play pranks on each otherincluding one in which David tricks her into drinking peeand grow closer over time.

Youn is absolutely incredible, stealing near enough every scene she is in, and manages to provide natural comic relief and devastating emotional beats with remarkable ease. As Soonja makes a mistake that forms the climax of the movie, Youn’s facial expressions tell the audience everything they need to know without a single word being said. 

A special shout-out should also be given to Yeri Han as Jacob’s wife, Monica. Resentful of her husband’s decision to move the family out to the country, and away from their close-knit community in California, Monica’s love for Jacoband the couple’s marriageis put under severe strain, and Han sells every line of angry dialogue and each disgusted-looking sideways glance terrifically well. Without learning about the pair’s background, the audience is instantly invested in their relationship, Yeun and Han showing incredible chemistry and going toe-to-toe to astounding effect. 

This tale of a marriage on the ropes is told in the most stunning way imaginable, with Chung combining with cinematographer Lachlan Milne to create one of the most gorgeous-looking films in quite some time. Viewing the family’s struggles through such a beautiful lens provides an interesting contrast between how the American Dream is promised and how it often ends up in reality, and is brilliantly executed by the talented team behind the camera.

Minari will not necessarily win over everybodythere is ultimately little in the way of plot points, which may feel slow for somebut it is undoubtedly worthy of the immeasurable amount of praise it has received by critics and audiences alike. An elegant and graceful look at one family’s attempts to make it in the so-called ‘land of opportunity’, this film is poignant yet enjoyable, featuring dazzling performances and an utterly splendid script. Our friend boratsgdiyev is right, this is very nice. 

Did you know? Steven Yeun's red hat was a gift from his mother when he was 17.

Minari is currently available to stream on Broadway's website

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