Minari (2021)

Minari (2021) Cover

Minari is the film from writer/director Lee Isaac Chung that has taken the awards world by storm. It's currently one of the strongest and most significant frontrunners in the race toward the Academy Awards, and has garnered acclaim since its initial debut in January 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival. This semi-autobiographical film that include snippets of Chung's own life is a wonderfully helmed slice-of-life drama that focuses in on intimate, personal details in the vain of Alfonso Cuarón's Roma. The scale of Minari is definitively smaller than that film, but a naturalistic approach and nuanced, winning performances make Minari an understated and gentle memory piece. The deliberate pacing of the narrative lets us truly live in these characters' space, becoming a fly on the wall to the small and large moments of the family's happiness, struggle, and devastation. Chung adds life into the film with moments of observant levity and humor that create endearing and sometimes beautiful moments that make these characters truly come alive. Despite everything that Minari has going for it, perhaps its biggest hindrance is its length - at nearly two hours, some of it feels like it could have been cut out in the editing room; a shorter version of the film might have packed an even stronger emotional punch. As it stands, though, Minari succeeds as a warm, honest, and often poignant depiction of family, dreams, and sacrifice.

The performances in Minari are one of its most standout features- everyone in this ensemble should be nominated for further acclaim, espescially given the dearth of excellent performances in this year's awards cycle. Steven Yeun, who previously dazzled in films like Burning, is excellent as the driven albeit sometimes stubborn Jacob. The performer, who really should be seeking out more dramatic roles such as these, proves once again that he is someone who brings real talent to nuanced roles. Yeri Han might just be even better in her role as Monica, and her perrformance feels so understated and real that the farce of performance quickly fades away into truth. The film also stars Noel Cho and Will Patton in pivotal roles, but the biggest highlights from the film are easily Youn Yuh-jung and Alan S. Kim as a spunky, hilarious, and delightful grandmother-grandson duo who steal scenes so often that the movie ends up belonging in large part to them. Youn Yuh-jung, in particular, matches her role as a loving grandmother (despite what Alan S. Kim's David may say in the film) with bringing moments of real gravitas to some of the film's more serious moments. All across the board, the cast of Minari is stellar and the simple realism of their performances shines through. 

In its style and approach, Minari isn't terribly surprising or unique, but Lee Isaac Chung's nuanced direction and personal take on aspects of his own life story make the film feel intimate and sweeping all at once. This is a grounded but tender story of a family coming to terms with the American Dream and the sacrifices, struggles, and joys that come with trying to start a new chapter in their life. The feeling of family in the film is so incredibly honest and raw that even the moment's occassional moments of melodrama or lack of focus are coated by the wisdom and warmth of Chung's direction. A little bit more tightening in the script could have taken Minari even further, but I found myself constantly moved by this observant, humorous, and heartfelt tale that is worth seeking out and sharing with others.

Final Verdict:Writer/director Lee Isaac Chung's Minari is an observant, moving, and often humorous tale about family and sacrifice, and is grounded by the performances of a stellar ensemble cast.