Review by Dan Skip Allen
Fish out of water stories can be hit and miss. They capture the magic of a person, animal, or family in a place that is not familiar to them. A lot of writers and directors have tackled this genre of film, but Minari shows a perspective that has rarely been shown before. It's rare to see a film that does something different while also in a subgenre fan have seen before.
The Yi family — Jacob, Monica, and their two kids David and Anne — move from Korea to a small town in rural Arkansas to become farmers. They are over their heads from the very beginning of the film. They start as chicken sexters and end up trying to make things work as farmers. It's not as easy as they think.
Set in the 1980s, Minari has a great aesthetic of that period. From the clothes and cars, the film is very authentic to the time. Lee Isaac Chung wrote this film basically about his upbringing so it's semi-autobiographical. He includes a lot of things such as peeing in the bed and having the water turned off because they were using too much to water the crops.
The struggles this family is going through are relatable for quite a few people around the world, let alone Americans. Not everyone can be described as farmers, but people have struggled with their finances everywhere. Raising kids can be quite hard at times as well. Chung comes from a place people can get behind. I for one can relate to all the struggles that are depicted in the film.
One of the aspects of this story is the foreign language this family speaks. Subtitles are used to supplement the dialogue of the film so that it goes back and forth between both English and Korean seamlessly. This helped show the fish out of water aspect as well. It's not everyday Koreans move into a small Arkansas town to become farmers.
Even though this film is set up as a dramatic piece of cinema, it also has moments of comedic levity in it. The grandmother character has some funny moments. The family is just out of place in this new home they have moved to. Laughing can be the answer to some ill wills in society.
Along with the script and direction from Chung, the acting by Stephen Yeun and the others is superb. The children, especially Alan S. Kim, are very good in this film. The cinematography is spot on as well. The vistas of rural Arkansas are brought vividly to life by Lachlan Milne. You rarely get to see fields of crops and trees captured so perfectly as in Minari.
Minari is quite a piece of cinematic gold. It's a small film from a company that has become synonymous with great small films. As seen in years past, A24's little films have garnered a lot of praise from critics and film fans alike. They just know how to tap into those small subsectors of society. And the filmmakers are very good at telling these small stories that become big in stature.
This film checks all the boxes of what I am looking for in films today: dramatic strife, great acting, direction, writing, and cinematography. It touches on so many things I can relate to or have gone through in my life. It's easy to see why Minari has garnered so much praise coming out of the Sundance film festival back in January. This is a film that will get more eyes on it and become a force going forwards into awards season.
Minari hits theaters on February 12 and VOD on February 26.