Every once in a while, a movie comes along which takes over you within its first few opening minutes. A movie which captivates your mind and heart and gets you to care deeply about what it has to say. ‘Minari’ is one of those movies. Opening up with it’s trance-inducing score and presenting it’s deep love of nature, ‘Minari’ evokes an unspoken bond between itself and the viewer, instantly getting that connection so many movies fail to achieve. What follows is a layered story which speaks to the truth of family, identity and culture.
‘Minari’ isn’t a movie which necessarily follows a traditional story, it’s more so led by the actions of it’s characters and how it contributes to its themes. There is a generational aspect to this family which presents different themes. The grandmother represents traditional Korean culture, the parents represent the familial aspect of the movie, their entire role is dedicated to getting this family to a safe and comfortable space. The children represent the duality of being Korean-American and how their cultures clash. What’s interesting is that while watching the movie, these elements don’t seem to interact all that much, it’s only after watching the movie that you realize how cohesive and interwoven these stories are. The movie doesn’t end with a traditional ending either. Despite solving the major conflict and tying up most of the story arcs they introduce, the movie leaves a lot to the viewer to dissect and learn to get more closure. The ending will only become more powerful and meaningful with every rewatch. In that sense this movie does feel like a stage play at times, the one you would study in school and absorb every bit of nuance and meaning out of.
Despite not being Asian nor American, there was a part of this film that spoke to me. American culture has become a universal state of mind. Growing up on a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean, there was a disconnect between me and the culture of my nationality. When you grow up constantly consuming American culture as a child, you start to look at your own life and compare. Of course when I was younger I thought that anything which wasn’t modeled exactly how it was in an American show was embarrasing or dull. Now, as an adult, I’ve finally realized the unique beauty of my country’s culture. Dismantling that dangerous concept was an experience I’m sure many people over the world have had to deal with. Seeing young David feel disgusted by his own culture really made me take a step back and realize I did the exact same thing when I was younger. It was genuinely heartbreaking to see. The movie’s process of taking this concept and then turning it around by the end was beautifully executed. When you get to see their excitement and genuine wonder of being in a Korean store later on, it felt rewarding, even if it was such a small scene. The grander version of that scene later on during the climax was especially moving when David runs to stop his grandmother from leaving. What’s more effective is that the movie doesn’t make hit you over the head with the message to understand it, it never goes over-the-top to get that message clear. It was subtle and incredibly effective.
Steven Yeun leads this incredible cast as Jacob Yi, the patriarch of the Yi family. As expected of Yeun, he brings the charisma and charm as well as the necessary nuance and complexity of a man whose ideas of saving and providing for his family clash with his dream and need to feel respectable. As a character, Jacob is very complicated to talk about, his conflict is blurred so well together that you can’t really decipher his thought process and therefore his character either. He clearly wants to protect and provide his family yet he’s doing it through some arguably risky ways. His yearning for “the American dream” gets ahead of his family, he wants to live, work and earn his own way and Yeun captures all of this perfectly with his performance. So glad he got recognized at the Oscars this year. Alongside Yeun is Han Ye-ri as his wife Monica. The amount of uncertainty and deep pain she feels throughout this movie is never understated with Ye-ri’s performance. The overall emotion in this movie felt very palpable, the acting is truly incredible here. The incredibly adorable… sorry good-looking Alan Kim was excellent as David. I’ve never been so protective over a child in a movie. The sister played by Noel Kate Chao did the best with the little she was given, I wish her role played into David’s theme a bit more. Youn Yuh-jung had a lot of scene-stealing moments but I do wish her character got some more solid closure. She is great in the first two acts but in the third act she feels very disposable as a character which is a shame. She should’ve been incorporated fairly better but other than that, her performance was just as good.
It’s because of these actors that we care so deeply about these characters in such a short amount of time. When the Yi family got out of their car to see their new home, I was instantly invested in what would happen to them. With just the opening scene I put my complete trust into the director to deliver a great movie and that is what I got. The only other time I can recall knowing that I was in for a great experience with just the opening scene was Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’. A moment where you get taken out of the movie purely because you know how good it’s going to be. The incredible score by Emile Mosseri is a perfect companion to the script, actors and environment. It took my breath away the moment it started playing in the opening scene, truly outstanding work. It’s a score which feels precious and fragile, hopeful yet cautious of what’s to come. It truly deserves Best Original Score.
To make sense of the title of this review, ‘Minari’ is a very easy movie to love but the impact it will have on you depends entirely on how much you can relate to what this movie has to say. If you can relate to any of the characters or themes in some shape or form, you’re guaranteed to appreciate this movie on a different level. ‘Minari’ is a masterclass in acting and atmosphere and includes a cast which bring their characters to life in such a way that you instantly care for them. The gorgeous imagery and truly outstanding score make up an atmosphere as delicate and innocent as the movie itself. This is a movie that will stay with a lot of people for a multitude of reasons and that’s part of the beauty of this movie, it’s accessible to a lot of people for different reasons.