There is so much to love about the sublime Minari, the reasons why could fill a film of its own. So, forgive me if I'm a little effusive.
Taking place in 1980s Arkansas, it follows a Korean American family as they attempt to start a farm. It's alluded that they've previously worked somewhere in California and in Seattle, where they were making just enough of a living to get by. Now, the family has purchased land that no one else wants in a long shot at making their own Garden of Eden.
Jacob (Steven Yeun), the family's somewhat naive but caring patriarch, initially gives the farm the biblical name. It soon becomes clear that he is driving the family to take the leap of faith with him. There is Monica (Yeri Han), the justifiably worried matriarch, who must balance out her husband's dreams with keeping the family whole.
Both actors are fantastic, though they are not Minari's focal point. That would be their children David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel S. Cho), who view the new world their parents try to create for them through youthful eyes. But the film's most lovely performance goes to veteran actor Youn Yuh-jung as Soonja, who enters the story as the scene-stealing grandmother who, as David tells it, is nothing like how a "real grandma" should be. She doesn't bake cookies, she does a lot of swearing, and viewers absolutely wouldn't want it to be any other way.
The film clearly comes from a personal place for writer and director Lee Isaac Chung, who delicately breathes life into every corner of the film. His down-to-earth story combines with visuals that are boldly full of wonder—from the rich reds, seen in the hat on actor Steven Yeun's head, to the tranquil greens of the natural world around them.
Speaking of Yeun, he remains outstanding. Even as an admirer of all his previous work, with his turn in 2018's Burning still being an incredibly high mark, I caught myself forgetting it was him. He's versatile and transformative in his role, having grown from when he won audiences over in what was, for many, his first on-screen appearance as a pizza delivery guy with a heart of gold in The Walking Dead.
Han is worthy of praise as well. She commands the film with simple expressions and careful observations. When she expresses concerns for their children—especially David, who has a heart condition—I felt her love and care as if it were my own.
The film is enhanced by Emile Mosseri's score, with the end-title track "Rain Song" being a standout. Mosseri's previous work in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, through which he got this gig, was an absolutely dynamite debut of a composition. The score in Minari is no different—graceful, dreamlike, with great use of the Theremin, mixing in with woodwinds, piano, and guitar.
Don't mistake the praise for lightness—the film is often dark; it doesn't sugarcoat. It's a hard journey that complicates and challenges traditional ideas about the American Dream. It is disappointing to see how the film has been categorized by awards like the Golden Globes, who excluded it from top consideration based on outdated rules that pigeon-holed it in the best foreign-language film category. There could not be a more quintessentially "American" film than Minari.
The film is itself named for a peppery Korean herb which the family plants near the creek. It serves as a genuine expression of hope for the future. To see Minari itself thrive and flourish is a brilliant experience.