Like many other film festivals recently, the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival has gone online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst I wish I was in Glasgow for this, I also know that there are some films that I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. Case in point, the opening film this year, Minari. The awards buzz I’ve been hearing about this film has made me really excited to see it, and the final result matched my expectations.
The film follows the Korean American Yi family who move from California to rural Arkansas where Jacob hopes to grow Korean produce to sell to vendors in major cities. Whilst Jacob is optimistic, his wife Monica is more pessimistic, worrying about the condition of their home (which is pretty much a trailer) and the issues that could be seen if the farm fails. In order for the children, David and Anne, to be supervised during the day, David and Monica arrange for Monica’s mum Soon-ja to travel from Korea to look after them with David later forming a strong attachment to Soon-ja. Now I found this to be a very tender and heartfelt film. The family dynamic between the Yi’s is very believable and you see the struggles and joys that the different members of the family face. In a film like this, it would be very easy to make one character more of an outright villain but this film makes it clear that all members of the family have valid concerns and optimism about the farm. We see the love that the family has for each other, even when it gets severely strained by the stress of everything and as the film goes on and more difficulties pile up there’s a great level of sympathy that’s generated. The film also does a good job at highlighting the power of the American Dream, showing how it can build people up, but also show the dangers of focusing too much on the dream, at the expense of everything else. We also see the culture clash that comes with the family, especially with the arrival of Soon-ja and her initial interactions with David. David has a more Americanised view on what a Grandma should be and Soon-ja does not conform to it, with this culture clash forming some of the heart of the film. On the whole, this is a very touching film.
The performances as well add to the heart the film has. Steven Yeun as Jacob has this earnest quality that shows his own determination and desire to make a good life for him and his family, even if he can be a bit too stubborn in his goals to the detriment of his family. Han Ye-ri as Monica meanwhile effectively shows her concerns over the farm and whether or not it will success and sells the growing emotional disconnect that Monica has from Steven. Youn Yuh-jung as Soon-ja meanwhile brings some strong comic relief in the first half of the film, especially through her relationship with David and the aforementioned culture clash, but in the second half there are some really tragic moments that she just nails. Alan Kim as David does a good job at showing how his ideals and expectations for life are being upended and works well with Youn Yuh-jung to create a believable relationship between the two and whilst Noel Kate Cho as Anne isn’t as important a player as the others, her performance still anchors the film. There is also strong work from Will Patton who helps to show the complexities of religion in this area and the growing friendship he has with the Yi family is well executed.
On a technical level, I found the film to be very impressive. The subtle design details in the film really sold me that this was taking place in the 1980s and creates a believable environment for the farm. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, showing off the beauty of rural Arkansas, letting the audience see the land the way that Jacob does and the music adds to the quiet, tender nature of the film.
Overall, I found Minari to be a really touching and heartfelt film, showing the trials and tribulations of pursuing the American Dream effectively and create a powerful and believable family dynamic, aided by top notch performances from the whole cast.
My Rating: 5/5