A story of a family coming to rural Arkansas in the 80s trying to chase a dream.
The Korean immigrant Yi family moves from California to a plot of land in Arkansas in order to let the patriarch, Jacob (Steven Yeun), fulfill his plans to get wealthy growing Korean vegetables. He’s assisted by an eccentric local man named Paul (Will Patton). Jacob’s wife, Monica (Han Ye-ri), is not particularly enthusiastic, but the pair take jobs as chicken sexers (people who sort chickens by gender) to make ends meet. In order to have someone to look over their young children David and Anne (Alan Kim and Noel Kate Cho), they bring Monica’s mother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) from South Korea. She takes the children to plant some Minari (Japanese Parsley), but despite the extra help, Jacob and Monica’s marriage starts to pay the price for his actions.
This movie’s plot is not particularly original, to say the least. It’s a story you’ve seen a thousand times, a family moving for a new opportunity and having to adjust to the surroundings and the stress that it puts on them, but the plot is not the point of the film. The movie is an intimate picture of a family that is going through this time and with the added alienation that comes from being immigrants (particularly Korean immigrants with a number of Korean War veterans still being active in the area). The reason why this one stands out is because it’s so well-performed and well-written that you almost completely lose yourself in their lives. None of these people seem like caricatures or stock characters and almost all of the dialogue feels natural (albeit most of it is in Korean). What’s amazing is that so many of the characters are so outlandish, particularly Soon-ja and Paul, but if you’ve lived in a rural community you will absolutely have met these people at some point.
I suppose there’s always going to be a discussion about what constitutes “the American Dream,” but I think most people agree that it’s generally considered to be moving yourself upwards socioeconomically through your own hard work. This film is a fairly accurate picture of the reality of trying to do something like that. While Jacob has definitely found a niche market that he can take advantage of, it’s not as easy as he envisioned it and it requires sacrifice not only on his part but also on the part of his loved ones, a sacrifice that they did not want to make to begin with. It is also pretty interesting that, in order to pursue his dream of no longer being a chicken sexer, he has to… be a chicken sexer for less money while also farming. That’s why this part often gets skipped over in the success stories.
The actual minari in the story is probably the least subtle metaphor imaginable. Minari is strong, resilient, and prosperous, as long as you plant it in the right place. Fortunately, despite being the title, the film actually mercifully devotes very little time to it. This is an example of how well-crafted the movie is. Every element gets the attention it needs, but isn’t over saturated. It’s like farming: You need to water the crops and at the right time, but too much and everything dies.
Overall, this movie is beautiful, touching, and deserves all of the acclaim it gets. It’s not a movie with a huge agenda other than to tell a story that feels true (because it’s based on the writer’s childhood), but it definitely gets some points across.
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