by Hope Madden
Yes, I am a sucker for films containing devastatingly adorable little kids. Sue me.
Minari fits that bill. Writer/director Lee Isaac Chung essentially recreates the story of his own family’s struggles to become farmers when he was 6. The character based on the filmmaker is played by Alan S. Kim (that little face!), and though Minari is not told exclusively from his perspective, his presence—and the innocence and chaos that represents—suits the effort.
Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Yeri Han) were having problems before making the move to a tiny plot of Arkansas farmland. As Jacob struggles to turn their fortunes around, he brings his mother-in-law to live with them to make his wife happy.
Lucky for us all Grandma (Youn Yuh-jung, a treat) is a stitch.
The dynamic within the family is sweetly authentic, and the levity never overtakes a scene. There’s a tenderness here that, along with moments of joy, elevates the seriousness and even desperation of the family’s situation.
Chung’s cinematic style quietly beguiles. There is enormous struggle in nearly every scene, but it’s told with gentleness and grace. It’s the rhythm to a song made up of so much more. Chung’s skill as a storyteller is immense, but he couldn’t have created such nuance without such a game cast.
Yeun proves again the depths of his talent. If you missed his menacingly perfect turn in 2018’s Burning, you should definitely watch that right away. To the same degree that his character there was conniving and calculating, Minari’s Jacob is earnest and warm. You ache for him to succeed, and not just as a farmer.
Likewise, Han hits no false note as an involuntary Arkansan. It would have been so easy to oversell the bitterness or disappointment—as it would have been for Yuh-jung to have gone bigger with her “crazy granny” character. But broad strokes are nowhere to be found in this delicate drama.
Plus Alan Kim is just so damn cute.
Minari offers a close look—optimistic, but not sentimental—at the American Dream. If you feel like that’s been done to death, that just means you haven’t seen this movie yet.