In troubling times like these, we need a movie like Minari to get us through the bad patches. Lee Isaac Chung’s film is a series of emotions, ranging from humorous to touching, with a dose of hardship as we watch a Korean family struggle to make it in a new state with the resources they can. At its heart is a story about family, and it is that family that propels its emotional heft. Either way, you are going to be moved with a possible new perception of life as you leave the theater (Assuming yours is still open and this movie just happens to be showing for Oscar Season); It is the feeling I had when watching Minari as I assume the audience I was with had felt.
Minari is the latest foreign-language film to be nominated for Best Picture, following the footsteps of Roma and Parasite, with the latter being the first to win the coveted Oscar. It seems that, if The Academy follows the same route, there is a chance that this movie may be the second in history to win (though its chances of beating Nomadland may just be a lucky win). Though I cannot say that Minari is an entirely foreign-language film per se, since there are moments where the characters do speak English (Mostly in scenes involving the Yi family’s Christian neighbor played by Will Patton where he shows up to help Steven Yeun’s Jacob with farm work and give the family some blessings and prayers, as he speaks in tongues), we, however, get to spend the majority with the family as they speak Korean, giving us an intimate portrayal of a family different in language and race, but going through the same connection and hardships most families face when trying to get by.
For those wondering about the titles meaning, “Minari” is a type of edible plant that is native to East Asia, yet it could also serve as a metaphor for the connection the family has to make to struggle through these hardships, marital or financial. Jacob and Monica (Yeri Han) work at a hatchery, sexing chickens, though their marriage is nearly on the rocks, as Jacob has dreams of making produce on their new farm to sell, and wants more out of life than being a chicken sexer, while Monica is not sure whether the new life will be right for them and their children, David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel Cho), especially with Davids heart condition. Enter Grandma Soonja (Academy-Award Nominee Yuh-Jung Youn) to shake things up with her crass, crude approach in the Yi household while trying to connect with David, who has a hard time seeing her as a regular grandmother, and you have the ingredients for a family going through the motions.
As much as it is Jacobs story trying to provide for his family, the sweetest (and humorous) moments come from the connection between Soonja and David; the scenes where they bicker and have heartfelt discussions are what drive Minari‘s family aspect all the way to its heart-rending, albeit hopeful ending. In the worst year for movies, in comes Minari to give us that feeling, if only for two hours.