Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari soothed my aching heart last night as I had almost forgotten what real life was like. Telling his own childhood story as the son of Korean immigrants who moved to rural Arkansas to try to build a successful farm, Chung gently explores the relationship between a young boy and his odd grandmother, a husband and wife having a hard time making ends meet with a fledgling farm while keeping their relationship and family strong, and an immigrant family trying to assimilate.
This isn’t a film about Southern racism that makes it hard for outsiders to be accepted. Rather it makes a powerful point about how religion can unite people who come from different worlds. There is no denying it’s a difficult life for them across the board, but the film never slips into self-pity or lectures in its depiction of Arkansas in the late 70s and early 80s. In our current atmosphere of such extreme partisanship the embrace of the story was most welcome.
Minari was buzzed as an early Best Picture contender out of Sundance, where it won the Grand Jury prize. It likely will make the cut by year’s end just on the strength of its storytelling, to say nothing of the Brad Pitt/Dede Gardner/Jeremy Kleiner producing team that led Moonlight and 12 Years a Slave through the gauntlet. But also, amid more hard-hitting films this one will stand out as a work of gentle, sublime beauty. And voters will respond to that.
And yes, it doesn’t hurt that a Korean language film won Best Picture last year — and though Minari moves gracefully between Korean and English, one could argue that voters have warmed to Korean storytelling to the extent that language doesn’t matter. Minari stands out because it tells a simple but ultimately powerful story. At its heart it is about the bonds of a family that has one foot in Korea and one foot in America, but ultimately it is a very American story. Because America is an experiment built by people who mostly come from other places.
I would put Minari, at this point, down for:
And an outside shot for Yuh-Jung Youn for Best Supporting Actress.