The Most Heartwarming Film You'll See All Year
This Sundance Grand Jury Award Winner is a grounded, realistic depiction of a Korean family trying to make ends meet moving from California to Arkansas as farmers. The film does a terrific job with remaining authentic while delivering on emotional drama. Lee Isaac Chung writes a pristine screenplay and directs it to near-perfection in this 80s period piece in rural America. The entire cast is terrific across the board - featuring some of the best child acting you'll ever see. Steven Yeun, Han Ye-Ri, and Youn Yuh-Jung all deliver Oscar worthy performances in their portrayals of Koreans adapting to life in America in pursuit of the proverbial dream. The cinematography is naturally, but stunningly gorgeous in capturing the simplicity and subtle beauty of nature all around them. All of these fantastic aspects combine to make for a delightful cinematic experience. Let's take a closer look at why this film succeeds on all those levels.
As stated, the screenplay for this film is so pristine. It's a very trim, lean, and precise script. The dialogue is rich, it's biting, it's funny, and oftentimes it's heartfelt. Every line and everything included is important. Sure, this is something that's to be expected of films that are allowed to be produced these days, but it's not all that uncommon bad scripts slip through the cracks. This is far from one of them. The characters are developed brilliantly well throughout and their relationships are well observed and executed. They always feel genuine and it never feels contrived at any point in the film. Their interactions and progressions throughout are organic and seamless. The film is also carefully paced and is calculated in its structure. It builds and it builds until finally it all comes together in a brilliantly conceived finale which wraps it all together and deliberate setups from earlier are phenomenally well paid off in the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the film thanks to the wonderful screenplay directed to excellence by Isaac Lee Chung.
The performances carry this film all the way through. This is how we believe the story, and the believability factor is through the roof thanks to the performances that are off the charts. As I alluded to before, Steven Yeun, Han Ye-Ri, and Youn Yuh-Jung all deliver at the highest of levels here. Their performances could earn them all Oscar nominations if they were meritorious, but unfortunately I don't see that happening. Steven Yeun currently has the best shot at earning an Oscar nod, as he recently received SAG and Critics Choice honors. Youn Yuh-Jung had some momentum for her performance, but that has since waned. Still though, anything could happen in the coming weeks; especially if this receives more momentum after its release. I also mentioned earlier that this film features some of the best child acting performances you'll ever see in any film ever made. This may seem like hyperbole, but it'll have to be seen to be believed. Alan S. Kim specifically for me is the standout. I am typically not impressed with child actors, but he blew me away in his portrayal of the very believable David. Noel Cho as Anne also puts in some noteworthy work here as well. All in all, there's no weak note here as far as the acting is concerned. Also need to give a shout-out to the always wonderful Will Patton as the quirky, off-kilter Paul who essentially is a religious redneck outcast. This is not meant in a sleight, it's more endearing than it sounds. The performances here are so great in fact, the whole ensemble has a serious chance at winning the grand prize at the SAG awards this year. Be on the lookout for that being a real possibility.
Anyone who read my Nomadland review will know that I appreciate authenticity in a film above all else. Minari is no exception here. Their trials and tribulations were never in question as I always believed what they were going through, and that it was going to be more than difficult to dig themselves out. Most films create conflict out of nothing, just for the sake of drama. This film's conflict and drama comes from a genuine and organic place, which makes the tension and struggle palpable. The film doubles as a familial drama and a period piece. It's set during the 80s and this family is moving from California where they were leaving with next to nothing ready to start anew in rural Arkansas to try to make it as farmers. Jacob and Monica, the parents, are on the brink of divorce as money troubles mount and there's no end in sight. They debate staying together for the kids or ending the plight entirely, all while contemplating whether or not the move was the right decision. The problems compound on themselves as there's infighting between grandma and David, the farm isn't flourishing as planned, they struggle to work at a local farm animal distribution plant, put food on the table, and properly raise their kids simultaneously. Eventually, they turn to religion and try to blend in with the community. They're dealing with a lot of shit, and all of it is authentic as it comes. This is all thanks to the brilliantly written screenplay, the careful direction, and the mint presentation.
The cinematography is not overly flashy, but it is bright, vibrant, and highlights the beautiful nature that surrounds the family. This is not the type of cinematography that will be honored at this year's Oscars, but it should be. I will take this time to celebrate the cinematography of this film. It brilliantly frames each and every shot carefully and they're all conceived from a genuine place. The cinematographer wonderfully hones in on nature shots throughout the course of the film, and these are the standout shots. The natural colors of sunlight and the way it bounces off of plants and landscapes are gorgeously filtered to us. There's also, *spoilers*, a blazing fire towards the end that is also fantastically captured. This much is obvious if you've seen the trailer, though. And there has to be a fire in every A24 film, it seems. In any case, the cinematography on display here is not necessarily going to mesmerize, but it can be appreciated as it's beautiful in so many ways. Sure, cinematography does not make a film; but it certainly can accent and profoundly improve it.
Minari is exactly the type of film you're looking for if you need a heartwarming film in your life right now. Yes, I did mention that the potential of divorce is looming there, and the possibility they fail as farmers, but the film is funny, genuine, and heartfelt enough to keep a smile on your face throughout most of it. The screenplay is the primary strength of this film and you'll hardly feel like you're experiencing a movie; but rather, peering into the actually captured lives of this family back in the 80s. The performances are phenomenal across the board, namely the main characters and the child performances at the heart of it. The genuine nature and authenticity boasted in this film are sights to behold in this down to Earth portrayal of struggling to make ends meet on the way to achieving the American dream as immigrants in danger of poverty. The cinematography on display is a cinematic treat to be enjoyed by all who have an appreciation for the art, in case your heart wasn't warmed enough by the aforementioned aspects of the film. All in all, Minari may be too slowly paced for some, but for anyone willing to give this the time of day, your patience and dedication will be more than rewarded in the end.
Painfully Average/run of the mill
How did this get made
Minari is an A24 film and is currently enjoying a limited theatrical release and is available where theaters are safely open. The film can also be rented on A24's website and can be viewed via Virtual Screening at home. There may be other platforms in which it's available to stream, and I will keep you posted as soon as that information is readily available.