“Minari” follows a Korean American family who moves to Arkansas to become farmers in the hopes of achieving their “American dream,” but while the film has everything it needs to tell an engaging and creative story—great performances, setup, setting—the film doesn’t seem to use these elements as well as they should.
The film is a semi-autobiographical from director Lee Isaac Chung.
Performances: Everyone knows that child actors can make or break a film. The film gives a lot of the screen time to the son David (Alan S. Kim) and it is impressive that he is able to keep up with the veteran actors around him. He does a good job in making you empathize with his situation, and at times make you angry at him for some of his actions. Dad Jacob (Steven Yeun) is also a sympathetic character. This isn’t surprising as Steven Yeun is almost always great in the parts he plays, and he is very clearly comfortable in this role. It allowed him a chance to touch both aspects of his life with his American and Korean roots. You feel for this struggling dad who is trying to balance pursuing his dream along with supporting his family. His dynamic between his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) grows as things become more tense throughout the movie and they begin growing angrier at each other.
Setting: With this film being set in the fields of Arkansas, there is a lot of stunning greenery to stare at. It only gets better later in the film as we see the farm change and grow, and there is a nice dichotomy between how beautiful the land is and the home where the family lives. It is a nice comparison between the two, especially as Jacob starts spending more time with the farm instead of his family.
Paul: By far the most interesting character in this movie, Paul (Will Patton) is completely wasted in this movie. You are engaged in almost every action of his because there’s almost nothing normal about this character. He’s an extremely religious farmer who chooses to help Jacob seemingly due to his guilt of his time in Korea, and he crosses a road holding a cross on his back. These are details that are never fleshed out, and the film is worse for it. If the film wanted him to be a background character, that’s fine, but we can’t be blamed for wanting to know more about this guy and be disappointed when he only shows up to add some comedy because of how cooky he is.
Bland: There honestly isn’t much to talk about with this film. You have to wonder if this film was nominated because there weren’t a lot of movies that came out in 2020, because it doesn’t seem to offer a lot of what it takes to be Best Picture. It is nice that this movie is semi-based around the director’s past, and how it revolves around important parts of Korean culture, but it doesn’t draw you in. There doesn’t seem to be much of a message or a purpose for this film, not one that merits Best Picture anyway. The elements that are expected of a film like this aren’t fleshed out. Things are hinted at and there is a trail to follow that could lead to something interesting, but they never go anywhere. This is the case for the family struggling to assimilate towards a different environment or the medical problems some of them have. These are two plotlines that we are following along, but it doesn’t really lead to anything so nothing of consequence happens.
The fact that this film was nominated for Best Picture is actually what makes it worse than it is, because expectations reasonably get higher. Not to mention that people can’t help but compare it to “Parasite,” which won Best Picture last year. Honestly, I bet had I watched it before the nominations came out I would have liked it more than I did.
Rating: Lower Your Expectations