Dir: Lee Isaac Chung
Who is this film about?
A Korean-American family (played by Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim and Noel Kate Cho) who move states to start a new life.
Where have the family moved?
They’ve come to rural Arkansas, from California, to pursue the father’s ‘American dream’, of owning his own piece of land and starting a small farm to grow Korean vegetables to supply the needs of other Korean immigrants. Though much of the dialogue is in Korean, as to be expected when they’re talking to each other at home, it’s an American-produced film from A24 and Brad Pitt’s Plan B, the same production team behind such notable films as ‘12 Years a Slave‘, ‘The Big Short‘ and ‘Moonlight’. This caused some dispute when the Golden Globes classed it as ‘foreign’ and eligible for just that one category. Thankfully that’s not been the case elsewhere, as the film is widely nominated at the Academy Awards in lots of categories and not the one that was previously called ‘Best Foreign Language Film’.
When do things change even more for the family?
When maternal grandmother (Youn Yuh-Jung) arrives from Korea she shakes things up a bit. Constantly told by her grandson that she’s not a typical grandma, certainly not by his definition, she redefines his expectations, even as his parents struggle with the pressures of their jobs. In this one character, deftly portrayed by Youg Yuh-jung, many of the themes of family, expectations, and pursuing dreams are conveyed. Though she’s unconventional, she’s also endearingly determined to make the most of the time she can spend with her family, wanting to add to the life they’re building, and form a close bond with her grandchildren.
What is minari?
It’s a vegetable that the grandmother wants to grow, unlike the other things that her son-in-law is growing along with his farmhand (played very memorably by Will Patton who grew up on a farm) this is her personal project, one she bonds with her young grandson over. These scenes between the fantastic Youn Yuh-jung and young actor Alan Kim are brilliant, they bring their characters to life so memorably and watching their relationship develop is the emotional centre that makes the film so effective. These two steal the focus of the film, I’d almost argue that the little boy David is the lead as we see a lot from his perspective, and Youn Yuh-jung gives one of the most memorable performances I’ve seen this year.
Why is this so wonderful?
I found myself totally invested in this family and their lives, they’re all beautifully portrayed. Also, almost surprisingly, though there’s a bit of what we’ll call insensitivity, unlike many other nominees this year they’re not facing racial issues, it really is about their pursuit of this new life. The community, though not perfect, does seem to be happy to welcome them. The conflict is internal, coming from how their own plans, hopes, responsibilities, and even cultural expectations, put pressure on them, threatening their health and happiness, making them assess what’s important and how it’ll either pull the family apart or bring them together.
You’ve convinced me! How can I watch this?
I’m glad I have, you won’t be disappointed if you go get this on VOD, that seems to be where it’s available right now as it’s so new and not included in streaming services yet. One of the most enjoyable films of the Awards contenders, though there are moments of frustration and disappointment, overall I thought this film was a delight to watch, as I enjoyed spending some time with this beautful family.
Nominated for 6 Academy Awards this weekend, including Director, Original Screenplay, Score, Lead Actor and Supporting Actress, which Youn Yuh-jung will win, as well as the big one, Best Picture. I have the strangest feeling that the preferential balloting in that category may go in this film’s favour. While Nomadland is being touted as the frontrunner for the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar on Sunday, this could have an outside chance at winning by being so enjoyable in many ways. If Academy voters assume that Nomadland is going to win, maybe some will allocate their points in such a way as to give this more of a chance than they realise.