“Minari” is an absolutely beautiful gem of a movie that is delightful on all levels. The highly personal film, written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, tells the story of a struggling Korean-American family searching for a better life when they move to rural Arkansas from California. Jacob (Steven Yeun) dreams of starting his own farm and selling Korean vegetables to serve the growing immigrant population, while his wife Monica (Yeri Han) quietly internalizes her anxiety. Their two kids (Alan S. Kim, Noel Cho) adapt a bit more quickly, but things are turned upside down when their firecracker of a grandma (Yuh-jung Youn) arrives.
Set in the 1980s, the film depicts a fresh look at the immigrant experience in America, capturing what it must be like to face unfamiliar surroundings while clinging to the promise of a happy future. Jacob has a desire and drive that’s enviable, even if he’s draining the family’s savings with his pie-in-the-sky dreams.
It’s rare that almost all of the best performances of the year are concentrated in one movie, but here we are. The cast is pitch-perfect, from Will Patton‘s supporting role as a religious Korean War veteran to Han’s understated turn as a disappointed wife who is embarrassed to be living in a mobile home in the middle of nowhere. The performances are excellent all around, but Kim and Youn steal the film. All of the actors achieve something to be proud of here. I instantly felt a powerful connection with every character, each of them a person I would gladly root for until the end. I contend that if you aren’t all-in and crossing your fingers for this likeable family’s success, there’s something deeply rotten in your soul.
The narrative explores the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows with a charming, admirable authenticity and eye-opening insight. The story’s appeal is universal with a hopeful sentiment, even when tragedy strikes.
“Minari” may not escape a few chestnut platitudes (like even when you come close to losing everything, a new day will dawn and things will be brighter because you still have each other), but this comforting underdog story about immigrants with a dream is wrapped in an absolutely beautiful film that’s delightful on all levels.