Minari: Chasing the American Dream and Remaining Resilient

John FarrellBy John Farrell7 Minutes

Over the past year, movie theaters have been some of the hardest-hit businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head in every corner of the globe. As more and more people get the vaccination, businesses and industries look eagerly toward returning to normalcy.

Fortunately, cinemas – with strict safety and social distancing measures in place – are among the establishments slowly beginning to reopen.

Those waiting for the opportunity to see quality entertainment once again in a movie theater don’t have to wait long.

On Friday, February 12, the tender Korean-American film, Minari, arrives in select theaters countrywide. The critically acclaimed film is the latest project of writer and director Lee Isaac Chung. The story is loosely based on Chung’s own personal experiences growing up, which is why most of the film is told through the eyes of the seven-year-old David (Alan S. Kim), who has a heart murmur.

Early Praise

Minari found itself at the center of controversy when it was nominated for a 2021 Golden Globe. Rather than receiving the nod in the “Best Picture” category (as it should have been), the Korean-American film picked up a nomination in the “Foreign Language Film” category despite it being an American story. This snub didn’t go unnoticed and, rightfully so, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association received backlash as a result.

Regardless of its status with the Golden Globes, Minari has already received some nice hardware. Last year, the drama won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury and Audience prizes. It recently picked up ten Critics’ Choice Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Steven Yeun), Best Supporting Actress (Yuh-jung Youn), Director, and Screenplay. The movie also figures to play into the Oscar conversation.

Setting the Scene

The film takes place in the 1980s and opens with Jacob (Yeun) and his family arriving at their new home in northwest Arkansas. Their new house – a trailer on wheels – is met with mixed feelings. Jacob’s wife, Monica (Yeri Han) is not impressed; however, David thinks it’s cool that their house has wheels.

Having relocated his family from California, Jacob is attracted to this part of the country and this particular plot of land for the potential he sees in it and the vision he has – his American dream. His dream is to start a farm and grow Korean fruits and vegetables, including minari for which the movie is titled.

According to Kitazawa Seed Co.’s website, minari (aka Oenanthe javanica, water dropwort, Chinese celery, and Japanese parsley) “is a favorite garden green among Korean cooks when it is in season. From the Apiaceae family, the upright, crunchy green stems and leafy tops of this flavorful vegetable is delicious.” It grows best in moist soil, which is why Monica’s mother Soonja (Youn) plants it on the banks of a nearby creek, away from the farmland Jacob and Paul (Will Patton) – a friendly Pentecostal neighbor – are cultivating.

Arkansas … and All It Offers

In addition to chasing the American dream of farming his own land, Jacob moves his family for the slower pace of life that Arkansas offers. Back in California, Jacob and Monica worked at a hatchery as chicken sexers (I kid you not; this is a real thing. I researched it.). Chicken sexing is the practice of determining a chicken’s gender. If the chick is female, they keep it for commercial egg production; however, if the hatchling is male, it is discarded.

Unfortunately, Monica is unable to keep up with the fast pace at the California hatchery; therefore, Jacob locates a facility in the Ozarks where she is able to handle the more relaxed expectations.

Jacob and his family are looking for a new start in Arkansas and their farm represents the promise of a new life for them. However, it’s not that easy. It never is.

Unfortunately, their new plot of land isn’t as fertile as they hoped and digging for water has been unsuccessful. Paul warns Jacob that the crops will die if they don’t find a nearby water source. Even the former landowner struggled to grow crops.

Their living situation is further complicated when Soonja moves in with them and David begrudgingly has to share a room with her. David does everything within his power to make her life with them miserable.

Despite all the issues, Jacob is determined to remain resilient and provide the life he’s always wanted for his family.

While the actors did a fantastic job portraying their characters honestly, allowing the audience to connect with them and see what drove each of them individually and as member of the family, the scenes between Kim as the Mountain Dew-addicted David and Youn as Soonja stand out as both funny and genuine.

Minari is a tender, powerful film that will break your heart one moment, make you laugh out loud the next, and leave you cheering. It’s filled with love, tears, laughter, hope, and an ending that no one will expect. The script, acting, scenery, and directing all blend together to turn an inspiring story into a beautiful movie that is deserving of all it awards and well worth a trip to the theater.